Food intake is the crucial component of athletic success. What you consume before and after exercise is equally important. Most of us are confused about what we to eat after a workout and how long should we wait before we eat. However, we must learn more about how food intake supports exercise and how our body responds to exercise before we answer these questions. A typical post-workout meal can include carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats.

Read on to know more about post workout meal and other details.

How does our body respond to exercise?

When we exercise, our muscles use up their glycogen stores for fuel. During resistance training, you create micro-tears in the muscles and damage muscle protein (1, 2).

After the workout, our body works towards rebuilding its glycogen stores and repairing the muscle proteins. The right kind of nutrients can help your body do this repairing and rebuilding faster.

When we don’t provide our body with the proper nutrients, it can slow down the recovery process. After all, we are not providing our body with the fuel it needs for this process.

Post workout meal

Our body needs a well-balanced meal after a hard workout to heal and get stronger. This means our post-workout meal should have a healthy balance of all three macronutrients – proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

The ratio of carbohydrates and proteins in the post workout meal also depend on the intensity of the workout. According to the experts at American College of Sports Medicine, endurance athletes should consume a 300 to 400 calorie snack with a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates and proteins.

If you are doing a low to medium intensity workout, you should consume a 2:1  ratio of carbohydrates and proteins. Experts also recommend two cups of water for every pound of weight lost during the workout.

Post workout recovery

Let us now understand how each macronutrient helps in the post-workout recovery process.

Carbohydrates promote recovery

Carbohydrates play an important role in replenishing the glycogen stores that get depleted while we workout. If your workout involves more cardio exercises like cycling, running, or jogging, you will burn more glycogen as compared to strength training.

People who do intense cardio training are advised to eat a diet rich in carbohydrates after their workout.

International Society of Sports and Nutrition recommends consuming .5 to .7 gram of carbs per pound of body weight within 30 minutes of the workout for proper glycogen resynthesis and improved mood (3).

According to the International Journal of Sports Medicine, to maximize glycogen resynthesis after exercise, a carbohydrate supplement more than 1 gram per kg of body weight should be consumed immediately after training (4).

Some other studies have indicated that both carbs and proteins should be consumed after exercise. Essential amino acids with carbohydrates stimulate muscle protein anabolism by increasing muscle protein synthesis when ingested 1 to 3 hours after resistance exercise (5).

Eating plenty of carbs is essential for those who exercise more often like more than once a day, as it helps speed up recovery.

Proteins repair and build muscle

Resistance training breaks down muscle protein. Eating protein provides the body with the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild the muscle fibers that are damaged during the workout (6).

The rate at which the muscle protein breaks down in the body depends on the intensity of the exercise and the level of training of the individual (7).

Experts recommend that you should consume .14 to .23 grams of protein per pound of body weight immediately after the workout (8).

According to various studies, ingesting 20 to 40 grams of protein after training helps the body to recover from exercise (9, 10).

Fats are also important

People think consuming fats slows down digestion and reduces absorption of nutrients. Though fats may slow down metabolism, they do not affect the absorption of nutrients.

While fats don’t affect glycogen stores and muscle recovery, they are good, and you should eat them. According to a 2004 study, the muscle glucose synthesis was not affected even after ingesting a high-fat meal (11).

So, you can eat limited amounts of healthy fats post-workout, they do not help in muscle recovery or affect glycogen stores.

Hydrate

Drinking enough water is as important as eating well post workout. You sweat more when you perform workouts and this depletes electrolytes.

Drinking water after you exercise helps you replaced the fluids lost during physical activity. Hydrating with water also helps your body return to its normal temperature.

Check the color of your urine to see if you have rehydrated your body enough after exercise. If your body is well-hydrated, your urine will be clear.

While drinking water post workout is necessary, we should not overdo this. Drinking massive amounts of water after exercises can cause a condition known as hyponatremia.

This can result in seizures, coma and even death in some rare cases. This condition is known to occur in athletes like some marathon runners who drink gallons of water during and after exercise.

The timing of your post-workout meal

Though all studies seem to agree that we should eat nutritious meals with carbs and proteins post-workout, when we should eat them depends on the type of workout you do.

Those who do intense weight training with the intention of increasing muscle should consume 20 to 30 grams of lean protein and 30 to 40 grams of carbs 30 minutes after their training is complete.

If you do a light aerobic workout, you should eat a similar meal up to one hour after exercising.

Most experts recommend eating within 45 minutes after exercise. They believe the anabolic window is lost if you do not eat within this time. But other experts believe the anabolic window can last up to four hours after the workout.

Some research believes that the amount and timing of protein and carbohydrate consumption affect the rate of synthesis. A delay in carbohydrate consumption by two hours can lead to 50 percent lower rates of glycogen synthesis (12).

Also, if you have eaten a healthy meal before a workout, its health effects continue post-workout as well.

The best post workout meal

The primary job of a post-workout meal is to refuel the body and aid in muscle recovery without negating the calories that you have just burned.

Choose foods that can be digested easily and can promote faster nutrient absorption. Let’s see what to eat after a workout.

1. Eggs

Eggs are rich in high-quality protein, and they make the perfect post-workout snack. Eggs have just 70 calories, and they contain all the essential amino acids.

Eggs also help in muscle recovery and growth. Eggs are incredibly versatile, and you can have them with toast or veggies as well.

2. Fruits

Fruits are packed with healthy, digestible carbs and enzymes that help break down nutrients. Kiwi aids in the digestive process and helps break down amino acids. Pineapple has anti-inflammatory properties that help your muscles recover.

3. Greek yogurt

Greek yogurt is rich in protein and carbohydrates. Mix it with cereal or fruits like berries which help fight muscle soreness.

4. Sandwich wraps

Wholegrain wraps contain wholesome carbohydrates. With turkey or chicken filling inside the wrap, you get your fill of proteins as well.

5. Protein shake

Protein shakes are a convenient way to add protein to your diet. You can add some fruit or milk to protein shakes to add to their nutritional content.

6. Grilled chicken with vegetables

Grilled chicken is an excellent choice or post workout snack as it contains lean protein and carbohydrates.

7. Salmon with sweet potato

Salmon contains proteins that have anti-inflammatory properties, and they also help regulate insulin. Sweet potatoes contain complex carbohydrates which help restore glycogen levels.

8. Chocolate milk

Chocolate milk has all that you need post-workout in a cup. It has carbs and protein for muscle recovery, water to prevent dehydration and calcium, sodium and sugar to help you recover faster.

9. Avocado

Don’t be afraid to add healthy fats to your post-workout diet. Avocado contains monounsaturated fats which help in muscle repair. Avocados also contain vitamin B which helps in boosting metabolism.

10. Cherry juice

Cherry juice is rich in antioxidants which help fight muscle damage. According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, subjects who drank 24 ounces of tart cherry juice every day experienced less muscle soreness.

Foods you should never eat post-workout

Most workout meals should boost energy, aid recovery and improve metabolism. But foods that are difficult to digest, full of sugar and are loaded with saturated fats can cause more damage than help with the recovery process.

1. Spicy foods

Spicy foods are difficult to digest. After your workout, you need foods that are easy to digest and can replenish your energy levels.

2. Sodas

You should never have a soda after a workout. You need hydration after a workout, and these fizzy drinks don’t help with that. These sugary drinks make you feel bloated.

3. Fatty foods

Do not eat seeds, nuts or anything fried after your workout. Unhealthy fats can slow down the digestive process and delay the delivery of nutrients to the muscles.

4. Fast food

Stay away from fast foods post exercise. Fast foods contain trans fats and consuming them will undo all your hard work in the gym.

5. Pre-made smoothies

While homemade smoothies are an excellent choice post workout, pre-made smoothies are loaded with sugars which stop the fat burning process.

Final thoughts on post workout meal

Post workout meal is as important as a pre-workout meal. Post workout meal should include carbohydrates, and proteins, and a small number of healthy fats.

Endurance athletes should consume carbs and proteins in the ratio of 3:1 while people who do low or medium intensity exercises can consume carbs and proteins in the ration of 2:1.

Remember to stay hydrated through your workout and after it as well. Choose foods that can be digested easily and can help in the recovery process.

What to eat after a workout. A typical post-workout meal can include carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats.