As an active runner, dancer, and workout-junkie, post-workout grub is always on the brain, plus I get asked about it a lot. Fueling your body after a good sweat-sesh is just as important as the workout itself. Working out is actually damaging your muscles, causing small tears in the fibers that become stronger as they heal, which is how you get stronger as a result. AND you’re depleting your glycogen store, especially if you’re getting some serious cardio in.
In order to heal properly, your body needs adequate fuel to do so. Eating or drinking the right amount of protein, fats, and carbohydrates after a workout has these benefits:
- Restores glycogen stores
- Decreases muscle protein breakdown
- Increases muscle protein synthesis (that’s the healing!)
- Faster recovery
Speaking of those macronutrients, which are most important after a workout? Ask anyone in the gym today, and I guarantee they’ll say protein, which is true… It’s just not the whole story. Protein needs for the average athlete (not a bodybuilder or elite marathoner) are much lower than the public perceives. The average person needs .8-1.0 gram of protein per kilogram (kg) of bodyweight. Yes, kilograms, not pounds. As an athlete incorporating a decent amount of strength training, upping that to 1.5g/kg is reasonable, and up to 1.2g/kg for a long-distance runner. There is a huge misconception in the sports nutrition world that protein needs reach into the 200-300g/day, which may be true for certain athletes, but for the majority of us, it’s just not the case. Try to aim around 1-1.2g/kg/day and you’ll meet your needs.
That being said, protein after a workout should be about 20-40g for maximum body benefit (about .4g/kg). Any more than that in one meal, and your body will just get rid of it (waste) or if the protein is in combination with excess calories, it will be stored as fat.
Carbohydrates are the real hero in your post workout routine. Replenishing those glycogen stores and restoring your energy will not only keep you more energized throughout the day, but help you to recover quicker between workouts. Depending on the type of workout, carbohydrate needs may be 3x your protein needs. Aiming for a 2-3:1 ratio of carbs to protein is ideal if you’re training back-to-back days. Skipping a couple days before your next sweat? Don’t worry so much about the ratio, just get some carbs in with that protein. Don’t skimp on the carbs here! Insulin secretion in the body, which triggers glycogen synthesis is best when protein and carbohydrates are eaten together.
What about fats?? While a large amount with your post-workout snack may slow absorption, it won’t impact your recovery or progress overall. Stick to a moderate amount of fat post-workout from some healthy sources like nut butters or avocado.
You don’t need to chug your smoothie, or cram a protein bar in your mouth the minute you leave the locker-room, but it is important to refuel quickly after you finish a workout. The best is 30 minutes – 1 hour post-workout. This is when your body is prime for glycogen synthesis and your best recovery. Even just 2 hours after your workout, glycogen synthesis slows 50%. Not hungry after a workout? Get a small snack within that 1 hour post-workout window, and eat a bigger meal once your stomach has settled. Most importantly, you have to listen to your body.
So what do I eat?
I have a couple go-to’s that I know work well for my body, and that I don’t get tired of. Basically, find what you like! Sweet or savory? Small snack or bigger meal? Your preference is also probably going to depend on what workout you just did! After a training run or a cardio class I’m all about a nice, cold green smoothie. After a marathon… I don’t want to eat anything, so I nibble on what I have, pack some go-to snacks ahead of time to test out something that typically tastes good. Overall, listen to your body. It knows what it wants.
5 Post-Workout Snacks
1:// Oatmeal and trail mix – for the morning runner (like me!). replenishing carbs, healthy fats, and a little sweet dried fruit. add protein powder to the mix to up the pow!
2:// Banana and nut butter – my favorite after a shorter training run. lower in protein.
3:// Green protein smoothie – the ultimate post-workout refresher. protein, carbs, and add some spices and herbs for extra benefit (turmeric and ginger and my faves).
4:// Quinoa and edamame bowl – for the more savory toothed athletes. toss a little peanut sauce on top and you’ve got it made.
5://Avocado Toast – need I say more? add some smoked salmon or sliced turkey for a protein boost with this one.
Whether you’re a cardio-junkie like me, or a strength-training weekend warrior, refueling after your workouts is key in your fitness journey and progress. What are your favorite post-workout snacks? Share below! I always love hearing new non-traditional post-workout eats.
Get to snackin’.