The Best Foods to Eat After a Workout

Maintain the Muscle and More

You have just completed a hardcore workout and your body is screaming for some recovery food. Post-workout nutrients are essential for replenishing the body and just as important as the pre-workout fuel consumed to provide much needed energy to get you through that sweat session. What to eat and how long to wait is a common question asked among the workout enthusiast. During an exercise session, the energy stores in the form of glycogen have been depleted, muscle tissue has been damaged by the demands of resistance training, and fluids along with electrolytes depleted through sweat. The purpose of eating a post recovery meal is to replenish the glycogen stores, stimulate protein synthesis to repair and build new muscle tissue, and restore fluid and electrolyte balance.

Eat a Balanced Meal

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The makeup for the meal should be a balance of carbohydrates and protein, along with water for fluid replenishment. It will depend on the intensity of the workout that gauges the ratio of carbohydrate to protein in that meal. It is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine that an endurance athlete have a 300-400 calorie snack within the hour and the focus on carbohydrates which follows a 3:1 ratio or 75 to 100 grams of carbohydrate to only 6 grams of protein. A low to medium intensity workout would follow a 2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio and consuming that meal can be prolonged but no longer than two hours, and suggested intake within one hour of exercise. It is also important to drink 2 cups of water for each pound of body weight lost during a workout. The everyday exerciser typically does not weigh in after a workout, so a good rule to follow is to intake fluids throughout physical activity and after to avoid dehydration.

Prepare Your Meals and Get Ideas

Healthy Balanced Meal
Make Cooking Fun. Paul Bradbury,OJO Images/Getty Images

The post-workout meal does not have to be complicated nor does it require expensive shakes or supplements as one might think. All meals take planning and prepping and the most important thing is to have your healthy foods ready to go pre and post-workout. Costly commercial recovery foods can be purchased but it is just as easy and more budget-friendly to have lean proteins, yogurt, quinoa, brown rice, whole grain wraps, power greens, nut butters, and fruit stocked in your kitchen for frequent meals and post recovery. Preparing our foods is also part of the fun of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and below is a sampling of meals that can be enjoyed after a great workout:

  • Brown rice and boneless skinless chicken breast.  Prepare with your favorite low-sodium spices or salsa for a fabulous recovery meal.
  • Power Smoothie. Blend your favorite fruit with plain yogurt, almond milk, soy or favorite tolerated dairy, some water and ice.  Power up the blend with a serving of nut butter added to the mix. 
  • Egg scrambles. Easy one-skillet meals where egg, egg whites, vegetables and sweet potatoes can be tossed with favorite spices and sprinkled with fresh black pepper.
  • Pass the peanut butter. The all-American favorite sandwich on whole grain sprouted toast, less the sugared jam and enjoyed with a drizzle of local honey will not only satisfy the taste buds, but provide a nutrient dense post-workout meal
  • Check the leftovers. What you cooked the night before is calling your name and ready to refuel that body. 
  • Wrap it up.  Whole grain high fiber wraps are a great start to a wonderful recovery meal. Add some fresh avocado, lean meat of your choice, greens, beans or whatever suits the theme of the wrap, roll up and enjoy.

Additional snacks to enjoy and suggested by the American Council on Exercise:

  • Non-fat Greek yogurt with ½ cup fruit or banana 
  • Banana with 1tbsp almond or nut butter
  • Low-fat chocolate milk
  • 4 ounces of albacore tuna on 1 slice whole grain toast
  • Whole wheat English muffin or whole wheat pita topped with slice of low sodium turkey meat and hummus
  • Protein shake with 2 scoops whey protein and ½ banana blended with water

Learn What Foods Work Best for You

Healthy Meals for Fit Lifestyle
Healthy Food Means Healthy Body. Peopleimages/Getty Images

Finding what foods work best for you post-workout will be through trial and error, but having a plan and following through is what will create the success of your nutritional program post and pre-workout. The “right” food is your friend post-workout and on the journey to adopting a healthy lifestyle. Don’t skip out on the meals and Stay Healthy!


Preventing the "Low-Fuel Light" in Endurance Exercise, Andrea Hacker Thompson, M.S., R.D., spring 2011 

Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, Nutrient Timing Revisited, Is There as Post Exercise Anabolic Window? Alan Albert Aragon et al., 1-29-13

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Knowing what to eat after a workout can feel frustrating, especially as a newbie exerciser. As your Verywell Sports Nutrition Expert, I'm happy to provide the best information to help you on your journey of adopting a healthy food plan that works. Check out some of the other resources available and feel awesome about the network of knowledge at your fingertips.

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