What To Eat After A Workout: The Best Science-Based Post Workout Meal
If you want to learn exactly what to eat after a workout to build muscle and the research behind it... Then you need to read this article.
I remember when I first started lifting, I was always told that the post-workout meal was crucial.
If I didn’t eat a post workout meal after my workout, I’d feel as if my gains would slowly wither away and that the workout was basically a write off.
Fortunately, over the years I was able to realize that post-workout nutrition isn’t as crucial as I made it out to be.
But it still does have its merits. Since by consuming the right foods in the right amounts after your workouts, you’ll be able to better improve your performance and recovery, and build muscle that much faster.
Your nutrition will hands down be the most important factor when it comes to transforming your body. I used to be completely lost as to how to approach my nutrition and I know a lot of you out there are as well. This is exactly why within my Built With Science programs, I not only cover training but also stress the importance of nutrition. In fact, I even developed a custom built nutrition software designed to optimize your diet based on your own stats and goal. For more information:
Click the button below to take my analysis quiz to discover the best program for you:
What Is A Post-Workout Meal?
So a post-workout meal is simply the meal you have shortly after a resistance training workout or even an intense cardio session. Any meal you have within 2-3 hours after your workout would count as a post-workout meal.
But for example a stroll in the park or any very low intensity activity wouldn’t require a post-workout meal.
The Goals Of A Post-Workout Meal
And this "after workout meal" seeks to accomplish two major goals:
1. To replenish glycogen stores that have been depleted during your workout. This helps keep you energized for the rest of day, provides your muscle with fuel for your next workouts, and can also help prevent muscle breakdown
2. To increase protein synthesis while decreasing protein breakdown. Which is just the re-building process of repairing any damage caused by your workout. As well as putting your body in an anabolic state to now build muscle.
So how can we set up the "best post workout meal" to effectively accomplish these two goals?
Well in this article that’s exactly what I’ll cover by going through what research has deemed as the best post-workout meal. I'll also provide you with various easy to make post workout meals examples that you can implement right away.
By the end of it, you'll know exactly what to eat after a workout and the reasoning behind it.
Let's start with protein.
1) Protein Guidelines Post-Workout:
Protein after a workout is essential and will be the most important macronutrient you’ll want to include in your post-workout meal. This is because it will be responsible for kick-starting muscle protein synthesis and the recovery and growth process for your muscles.
The Best Types of Protein After A Workout
As for the best types of protein sources to include in your post-workout meal, you’ll want to ideally stick with fast digesting protein sources.
This is because research has indicated that they promote post-exercise anabolism to a greater degree and does so much faster than slower-digesting protein sources.
Therefore, your best option here would simply be whey protein powder or plant protein powders. But lean meats and egg whites are definitely viable options as well as they are also relatively faster digesting protein sources.
How Much Protein To Have After A Workout
As for the ideal amount of protein to have, a 2016 paper by Macnaughton and colleagues provides some insight.
The researchers found that 20g of a high quality protein such as Whey is able to elicit a near-maximal protein synthesis response following a workout...
...however, they also found that doubling the amount to 40g was able to significantly boost protein synthesis by 20%.
What I’d recommend though is simply aim to get at least 20g in your post-workout meal.
And aim for 40g of protein in your post-workout meal if:
- You’re on the heavier side
- You would just like to ensure that you’re stimulating maximum protein synthesis
- This is going to be your last meal before bed since this will better improve overnight protein synthesis.
Just know that the difference in muscle growth this will make in the long run though is likely negligible given that your daily protein intake is sufficient.
2) Carbohydrate Guidelines Post-Workout
Now as for carbs, as mentioned earlier they’ll mainly serve to replenish any muscle glycogen that’s been depleted from your workout.
This will serve to improve your performance and energy levels for your next workout.
...and carbohydrates seem to best accomplish this when consumed shortly after a workout.
In fact, a study from the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that:
There’s a supercompensation of glycogen stores when carbohydrate is consumed shortly post-exercise. And delaying their consumption by just 2 hours reduces the rate of muscle glycogen re-synthesis by as much as 50%.
But, keep in mind that this is likely only really useful if you were to train again in the same day...
...because research has also shown that:
So long as you eat enough carbs in the rest of your meals, your body will eventually fill its glycogen stores back up regardless of whether you had them within your post-workout meal or not.
However, despite this, I WOULD still advise including carbs in your post-workout meal since it may come with some additional benefits.
For instance, a 2007 paper from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that ingesting carbohydrates with protein following exercise increases growth hormone levels to a greater extent than when compared to ingesting protein alone. Which the researchers stated leads to a more favourable anabolic environment for growth and recovery.
Therefore, including carbs as part of your post-workout meal is likely optimal.
Best Types Of Post-Workout Carbs
As for the best types of carbs to include, you'll want to ideally stick to high glycemic index carbs. This is because high GI carb sources have been shown to provide the most rapid increase in muscle glycogen following intense exercise and when compared to lower glycemic index carbs.
Some good examples of high GI carbs include white/sweet potatoes, rice cakes, white rice, and so on.
And as for fruits, they are actually a good option to include as well. This is mainly because research indicates that they seem to enhance digestion and fluid delivery when combined with glucose from carb sources that aren’t fruit.
Just make sure that you’re not only consuming fruit since they replenish liver glycogen rather than the much needed muscle glycogen.
How Many Carbs To Have In Your Post-Workout Meal
What’s even more important than the type of carbohydrate you ingest though is the amount you ingest within your post-workout meal.
A good idea is to get roughly 20-30% of your total daily carb intake or at least 25 to 30g of carbohydrates within that post-workout meal.
This will enable you to replenish your glycogen levels most effectively and support an anabolic environment for muscle growth.
3) Fat Guidelines Post-Workout
And lastly, as for fats, research is relatively unclear as to their benefits and drawbacks regarding post-workout nutrition.
We do know that adding fats to a post-workout meal does not further boost protein synthesis...
...but certain types may actually delay the digestion of carbohydrates.
Which does indicate that minimizing fat post-workout may be ideal to replenish glycogen and promote anabolism the fastest while keeping the risk of GI distress low.
But in my opinion, I’d say just do what you want with fats post-workout. Because at the end of the day, the difference between including them or not is likely insignificant in the long run.
When To Eat After A Workout
Now that we have a better idea as to what to eat after a workout, let's briefly discuss the timing of your post-workout meal.
This is something I'll cover more in depth in a future article, but for now I'll leave you with the just of it:
- If you’ve had a pre-workout meal with adequate protein and carbs at least a few hours before your workout, then the timing of your post-workout meal is less important. In fact, in this case it can be within 2-3 hours after your workout.
- If you haven’t had a pre-workout meal within that time frame or you’re working out fasted, then in this case you’ll want to ingest your post-workout meal as soon as possible following your workout.
The Best Post Workout Meal: Examples
So now that we know what a post-workout meal should consist of, let’s take a look at a few quick to make yet effective meal ideas that implements exactly what I’ve covered:
Post-Workout Meal Example 1
(Protein Shake with Rice Cakes + Banana)
- 1/2 scoop protein powder (15g) for a protein shake mixed with water or milk
- 4 plain rice cakes
- 1 ripe banana
- 15g protein powder for protein spread
- 380 calories
- 33g protein
- 60g carbs
- 2g fat
This is one of my staple post-workout meals, as it's very easy to make and includes all the right foods you'll want to have post-workout. The only prep to it is mixing a small amount of water with the 1/2 scoop of protein until it becomes a "peanut butter" or "spread" like consistency. Then, spread that on the rice cakes and top with sliced banana. Voila! Rice cakes made less boring.
Post-Workout Meal Example 2
(Protein Shake and Puffed Wheats with Strawberries)
- 1 scoop protein powder (~30g) for a protein shake mixed with water of milk
- 4 cups puffed wheats cereal
- 1 cup strawberries
- 1 cup skim milk
- 300 calories
- 34g protein
- 36g carbs
- 3g fat
Another easy and quick to make post-workout meal that gets the job done!
Of course, you're not going to want to eat the same postworkout meal every single day. Don't worry. Our 3-on-1 coaching program can help. You are going to have a dietitian who'll customize your meals (varied and delicious!) to suit your training goals. Plus, your coach and I will also be available to guide you every step of the way. If that sounds good to you, then:
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Post-Workout Meal Example 3
(Chicken Breast, Potatoes, and Broccoli)
- 4oz baked chicken breast
- 10oz baked potato
- 1 cup steamed broccoli
- 450 calories
- 40g protein
- 63g carbs
- 2g fat
This meal is another one of my post-workout staples as it's very easy to make in bulk for the week.
Post-Workout Meal Example 4
(Egg White Fried Rice)
- 4 servings egg whites (~240g or 1 cup)
- 1.5 cups of cooked white jasmine rice
- 1/3 cup green peas
- 1/3 cup corn
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 470 calories
- 39g protein
- 72g carbs
- 1g fat
Another favourite of mine! Easy to make and tastes great. Simply pan fry the egg whites into a scramble on the pan then set aside. Add cooked white rice to the pan and add in the green peas and soy sauce. Then, add in the egg whites and soy sauce. Continue to cook for a little longer and voila! A high protein, low fat post-workout meal.
The Takeaway On Post-Workout Nutrition
Hopefully you now know exactly what to eat after a workout and are ready to start implementing some of the post-workout meal ideas I've provided.
Just keep in mind that post-workout nutrition is just one of many aspects that you’ll want to get right in order build muscle most effectively.
Because you simply aren’t going to see the results that you’re after if you’re not optimizing ALL aspects of your nutrition and your training as well.
This is exactly why within my built with science programs I not only cover training...
...but I also show you exactly when, what, and how much to eat based on your goal and body stats. Such that you can build muscle and lose fat as quickly as possible.
And to get started today, simply take my body type analysis quiz below which will help determine what program and what approach is best for you:
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