Post Workout Nutrition: What should I eat?

By Alexandra Caspero on February 14, 2013

For a few years my office was located in the center of the weight section of the gym.

I’m not kidding.

It’s hard enough to stay focused with the regular distractions of life: text messages, daydreams, bag of trail mix under my desk. Now imagine being surrounded by lots of co-workers and students, mostly men, pumping iron all day long.

Did I mention my office had floor to ceiling windows?

Luckily, I moved into a more professional setting but I occasionally miss the days of staring out into the weight room. Mostly, to spy on what people were chowing down on after a workout.

I’m serious.

I saw, and heard, the craziest things. Enough to remind myself that no, most people don’t have a clue about what types of foods are best post workout. They do have lots of thoughts on the subject though.

Whether your a weekend warrior or weeknight gym-goer, you’ve probably heard a lot on the importance of eating before exercise. It’s equally important to discuss what to eat after a workout, perhaps even more so than the pre-exercise meal. After workout nourishment is critical to recovery and improves your ability to train consistently.

First up: Hydration.

A basic rule of thumb to ensure that you are consuming enough fluids: weigh yourself before and after exercise, drink 16-20 fl oz water for every 1 lb lost.

Sounds great in theory, but is it practical for most of us? I don’t own a scale. I don’t really see the point and I am not about to start weighing myself multiple times a day to make sure I am drinking enough water down to the exact ounce. I do offer this suggestion for the athletes that I coach, but not all of them are on board.

An easier option? For starters, stay hydrated all the time. Keep a water bottle with you to drink from throughout the entire day, not just immediately before and after exercise. If you’re consistently drinking before, during and after exercise, you should be ok. The best way to measure hydration levels is to monitor the color of your urine. Lemonade is preferable over iced tea.

Dehydration CAN happen, especially when running for over two hours or in the heat. In that case, I recommend drinking a beverage that contains sodium. Sodium increases fluid retention, facilitates thirst, and helps to maintain proper electrolyte status, all which are essential for optimal sports performance.

Second: Recovery nutrition.

You have two main goals after you exercise: restore glycogen loss and repair muscle tissue.

Carbohydrates are essential in restoring carbohydrate stores, which were likely depleted after your workout. If you want to get fancy, consuming 0.3-0.6 grams of carbohydrate for each pound of body weight is recommended to build glycogen stores.

Protein is the other essential component of the post-workout meal. Amino acids are necessary to rebuild damaged muscle tissue, among other things in the body.

For optimal results, enjoy both of these macronutrients- not one over the other. I’m looking at you protein-powder fanatic guy who only mixes his with water.

Combining protein with carbohydrate nearly doubles the insulin response, which means you store more glycogen. Refueling with carbs and proteins provides greater muscle glycogen stores than either carbs or protein alone.

My go-to meals and snacks:

Chocolate Protein Bites 
Banana with 1 tbsp. nut butter
Tofu scramble (tofu, lots of veggies), whole wheat tortilla
A greek style yogurt with oatmeal & fruit
Post workout shake: spinach, protein powder, almond milk, 1/2 frozen banana, 1-2 dates, 1 tsp. chia seeds, 1-2 tsp. cocoa powder
Creamy Protein Kale Salad
PB&J and Chocolate Soymilk

Since it’s important to eat within 45-60 minutes post workout, find what works for you. Since I often workout in the morning, I make my breakfast my ‘post-workout meal’ and don’t give it much thought. If you train in the evening or during the afternoon, consider a small snack afterwards until you can get to the next meal.

Gaining weight, even though your training harder than ever? I discuss weight gain and running.

What’s your favorite post workout meal?

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Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, New York Times Bestselling Plant-Based Chef and mom of two. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

(2 comments) leave a comment

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    1. Allen @ Jiu Jitsu Mats
      November 15, 2013 AT 2:07 am

      Diet during workout is very important. This video is nice. You have done a good work. Keep on making such type of posts.

      1. DK
        November 18, 2013 AT 10:35 am

        Thanks Allen!