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Your post-workout meal is essential for muscle growth and recovery.
Our best post-workout suggestion is that whether your goal is to lose weight, maintain, or gain weight, you should focus on getting all 3 macronutrients, water, and electrolytes in your post-workout meal. Keep on reading see our list of post-workout foods, snacks, and meal suggestions!
All foods are made up of 3 building blocks called macronutrients.
These macronutrients are carbs, proteins, and fats. We need a balance of all 3 macronutrients in order to have enough fuel to build new muscle mass and recover well.
Combining Macronutrients for Post Workout Nutrition
As we mentioned in our Top 10 Pre-Workout Foods blog, carbs are our body’s preferred energy source. Because of this, your body will use energy in the form of carbohydrates first. In fact, the human body likes using carbs so much, that it stores backup carbohydrates in the form of glycogen in our liver.
Our liver will break glycogen down into glucose (sugar), to then use as energy in times of need.
So, after your workout when you feel exhausted and hungry, it is likely that your body used some of its backup carbohydrate stores. Refueling with adequate carbohydrates is important to make sure that you have enough energy to spare so your body can heal after exercise.
Protein is necessary to repair your muscles and promote new muscle growth. It is important to eat protein throughout the day because our body does not store extra protein as it does with carbohydrates (stored as glycogen) and fats (stored as adipose tissue). That is why eating protein multiple times per day is a good idea if your goal is muscle growth!
Fat is a great source of energy to give your body after your workout. Having fat in a post-workout meal will also help maintain normal blood sugar, which helps your body function better!
How Much to Eat Post Workout
How much energy you need to replenish will depend on the type and the length of your workout.
Light physical activity for 30 minutes to 1 hour
A light workout would be physical activity that you can do without getting out of breath. For example, going on a brisk walk with your friend and you are able to still have a conversation with them.
A light workout is still a workout. It is great for heart health but you don’t need any specific post workout meal or snack if you’re eating balanced meals.
However, if you’re feeling fatigued or hungry, grab a snack that has carbohydrates for energy, and protein or fat to keep you full.
Heavy cardio or long runs:
1 hour or longer of moderate to intense exercise
Cardiovascular exercise, also known as “cardio”, focuses on exercising your cardiovascular system (your heart and blood vessels). These types of workouts tend to be on the longer side and put more wear and tear on your muscles.
This extra impact requires extra calories, carbs, and protein for healing.
To replenish after a one-hour run, you will definitely want a balanced snack with at least 30 grams of carbs and 7-8 grams of protein. The ideal ratio of carbs to protein for a post workout snack/meal after heavy cardio is 4:1.
If you were running for 2 hours, you should aim for at least 45 grams of carbs and 12 grams of protein. For three hours of training for marathons, you should plan a carbohydrate loading 2-3 days before your long runs, and plan a balanced post-workout meal with a minimum of 60 grams of carbs and 12-15 grams of protein.
However, for workouts that reach 3 hours or more, you will likely need additional carbohydrates because you probably burned through a lot of your stored glycogen. At this point, you should shift your focus from a post workout “snack” to a balanced meal.
1 to 2 hours of power- or resistance-training
Nutrition for strength training is a little different than cardio-focused nutrition. While you still need a mix of protein, carbs, and fat for a post-workout meal, you’ll need a little extra protein because your body is using a lot more muscle. Your ideal carb to protein ratio will be 2:1.
A result of weight lifting is more muscle wear and tear and thus more protein needed for recovery. Aim to have your pre-workout meal within 1 hour of strength training and have 15-20 grams of protein with carbohydrates to replenish your muscle’s glycogen.
Sports tournaments or other all-day events also require all-day replenishment. Having light frequent snacks will work best in this scenario. You will have to focus on carbohydrate sources and easily-digested protein if you have less than 1 hour between events.
Then refuel with a balanced meal (carb+protein+fat) during longer breaks (2-3 hours). The ideal ratio of 2:1 for carbs: protein applies here as well.
Best Post Workout Food
Post Workout Meal Ideas
Try these protein packed post-workout meals:
- Greek yogurt + fruit + Justin’s peanut butter*
- 2 pieces of toast + 2 tbsp Justin’s almond butter*
- Hummus + vegetables + pita
- Turkey sandwich
- Chicken/lean meat + vegetables + rice
- Whey protein shake made with fruit or milk
- Egg sandwich
Post Workout Snack Ideas
For light snacks in between events try:
- Welch’s fruit snacks*
- KIND Healthy Grains Bars*
- Other bars that are low in fiber
- Sports gels
Salty snacking can be helpful too, especially if you are outdoors and sweating:
- Sports drinks with electrolytes
- A handful of salted nuts
Antioxidants, which are in most fruit and veggies (but especially darker fruits), help reduce muscle inflammation and help your body heal quickly.
Sports dietitians will often give athletes cherry or pomegranate juice to help with soreness.
Water & Electrolytes
Electrolytes are like little messengers that tell our muscles when to contract and relax (a.k.a. they help us move)! Without the right balance of electrolytes, you can experience painful cramps or muscle fatigue. Both of these would interfere with your performance.
Water is also incredibly important because being dehydrated can throw off your electrolyte balance. Our bodies are approximately 70% water and water is needed for all bodily functions.
For rehydration, a good goal is to drink at least an extra 8 oz of water for every hour of exercise.
Interested in more sports nutrition blogs? Check these out!
If you have any questions about fueling for an activity or sport, contact us or call us at 301-474-2499 to meet with one of our wonderful dietitians for personalized nutrition help!
Don’t let your tank go empty and refuel after exercise! If you have any questions about fueling for an activity or sport, call us at 301-474-2499 to make an appointment with our sports nutrition expert!
Haley is currently an intern at Rebecca Bitzer & Associates. She is a dietetics major at the University of Maryland, College Park, class of 2021. She is the assistant to our social media director. In her free time, she enjoys training for marathons and cross country races.