Best Post-Workout Meals, According to a Dietitian

Eating a nourishing and balanced meal or snack post workout is almost as important as the exercise itself. Let’s dig into why post-workout nutrition is important and how to optimize your post-workout meal!

To understand what foods to include, it’s important to know what happens internally during physical activity. Exercise, no matter the intensity, requires energy. The body uses glycogen, stored within the muscle tissues, for energy or fuel during exercise. So when we finish a workout, our muscles are partially depleted of the glycogen used for fuel, in addition to some of the proteins that may have also been broken down for energy. And as we sweat during an exercise routine, the body loses water and electrolytes.

A post-workout meal should include something to replace the glycogen and replenish the protein stores used. This meal should also help to repair and rebuild muscles, while helping with recovery. 

To replace the depleted glycogen stores, a post-workout meal should include a fiber-rich carbohydrate source. This is because carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and stored as glycogen in the muscles. The harder the workout and longer the exercise duration, the more carbohydrates your body will need. Carbohydrate needs also depend on the type of exercise performed.

In addition to carbohydrates, a post-workout meal should include lean protein. Protein will help repair and rebuild your muscle tissues, as well as promote recovery. Research has shown that consuming 20–40 grams of protein post-exercise will maximize the body’s ability to recover after exercise.

Finally, it is important to drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout. It is important to replenish our hydration stores to help with recovery and performance. Depending on the intensity of the workout, an electrolyte drink may be necessary. Fluids should be replaced within 12 hours of exercise.

Here are some optimal post-workout meals:

  • Post-workout smoothie (made with lowfat milk, frozen fruit, spinach, rolled oats and optional protein powder)
  • Lowfat chocolate milk
  • Whole wheat tuna sandwich with lettuce and tomato
  • Low sodium turkey on a whole-wheat wrap with veggies
  • Black bean quesadilla made with corn tortillas, fresh tomatoes and lowfat cheddar cheese
  • Lowfat Greek yogurt with granola and berries
  • Lowfat cottage cheese, apple, cinnamon and rolled oats
  • Oatmeal, made with rolled oats and skim milk, topped with peanut butter or protein powder, fruit and nuts
  • Whole wheat pita filled with hummus, grilled chicken and vegetables 
  • Egg omelet filled with lowfat cheese, vegetables and avocado on whole wheat toast
  • Grilled shrimp stir fry made with brown rice, egg, carrots, celery
  • Salmon, sweet potato, broccoli
  • Whole wheat crackers, lowfat string cheese, dried fruit

These snacks and meals offer a balance of complex carbs and lean proteins. Meals post workout should be consumed within approximately 60 minutes post-workout.
For individualized post-workout meal ideas, based on exercise routine, food preferences, and body needs, a Family Food RDN can help!