What To Eat And Drink After A Workout for Weight Loss

by Marixie Ann Obsioma
Published on April 7, 2021 and last updated for accuracy on April 18, 2021

Workouts demand proper nutrition for energy and refueling of working muscles. What you eat after a workout is just as important as your pre-workout meal. We are all busy though and if you do not have a handy snack or meal packed, getting the nutrients required after an exercise may not actually happen. If skipping a post-workout nosh becomes a habit, you risk compromising your fitness goals. So, the common questions surrounding post-exercise meals are the best foods to eat and how long should you be waiting? 

It is very important to know the importance of food intake to support your physical activities and how your body responds to the demands of your exercises. Read on to know the details. 

Post-Workout Meal Is Important

When you are exercising, your muscles use up glycogen stores for energy. This results in your muscles lacking glycogen while some proteins are also being damaged (1, 2). Eating the right types of food to get enough nutrients can help your body get these things done faster. It is specifically important to consume more carbs and proteins after an exercise. These will help your body increase muscle protein synthesis or growth, decrease muscle protein breakdown, restore glycogen stores, and speed up recovery. 

Proteins Repair and Rebuild Muscles

As mentioned earlier, exercise can trigger the breakdown of muscle proteins. The rate at which this can occur will depend on the workout or the level of training, but even athletes experience muscle protein damage (3, 4, 5). 

Eating protein-rich foods after an exercise gives you the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild proteins and muscle tissues (1, 6, 7, 8). You are advised to take 0.14-0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight soon after exercise (1). Studies have shown that taking 20-40 grams of protein can help maximize your ability to recover from after a workout (6, 7, 9). 

Carbs Can Help You Recover

Your body uses glycogen stores for energy during exercise, and eating carbs after will help replenish them. The rate at which your glycogen stores are used will depend on the level of activity that you are doing. If you do endurance sports like running and swimming, you will need to consume more carbs as compared to when you did resistance training. 

Approximately 0.5-0.7 grams of carbs per pound of body weight is recommended to restore glycogen stores. This should be taken within 30 minutes after a workout (1). To boost insulin secretion, which promotes glycogen synthesis, take carbs and protein at the same time (10, 11, 12, 13). Take them in a 3:1 ratio (14, 15). Rebuilding glycogen stores is specifically more important for people who exercise often, like twice a day. 

Fat Can Also Be Healthy

A lot of people think that eating fat after exercise will slow down digestion and inhibits nutrient absorption. While fat may delay post-workout meal absorption, it won’t reduce its benefits. Evidence shows that whole milk was more effective at promoting muscle growth after an exercise than skim milk (16). More so, another study proved that consuming a high-fat meal after an exercise will not affect muscle glycogen synthesis (17). While limiting your fat intake can help avoid other health problems, including some fat in your post-exercise meal will not affect your recovery. 

Factoring in Nutrients and Timing 

Consuming the right amount of protein, carbs, and fat is specifically important after a workout. When to eat would depend on the type of exercise performed (18). If you did intense weight resistance workouts to increase your muscle size, you are advised to take 20-30 grams of lean protein and 30-40 grams of healthy carbs 30 minutes after training. For lighter aerobic activities with a goal to stay in shape, a well-balanced meal with the same ratio up to one hour after exercising is more than enough.

There are several theories regarding an anabolic window post-workout that can be missed if food is not taken within 30 minutes after resistance training. Generally, people are recommended to eat within an hour after weight training, but some research says that the anabolic window can last up to 4 hours after exercise (19).  

It looks like the most important factor to your post-workout meal is not really nutrient timing but just making sure you are consuming the right foods for optimal success. 

What To Eat And Drink After A Workout?

Your post-workout meal does not have to be complicated nor does it require expensive ingredients. The most important part of eating right is planning and preparing your meals. Expensive commercial recovery foods such as protein powder are very much available in grocery stores. However, it is just as easy and more budget-friendly to buy and prepare fresh produce. 

Get a good stash of the foods listed below to keep your body fueled after a hard workout.

1. Eggs

Consuming whole eggs after resistance training can help promote protein synthesis better than just taking egg whites with the same protein content (20). The nutrients in the yolk stimulate the muscles more effectively. 

2. Milk Protein

As few as 9 grams of milk protein is enough to promote muscle protein synthesis, which can help in recovery after a workout (21). 

Milk-based proteins are also more effective than soy-based proteins at promoting muscle protein growth after resistance training (22). Experts say that while both milk and soy proteins can help people maintain and build muscle mass, milk proteins are more effective at growing lean muscle mass faster. 

3. Ricotta Cheese

A half-cup serving of Ricotta cheese offers as much as 14 grams of milk protein. It also contains whey protein, which is high in leucine and can be effective at sparking new muscle growth. Also, pairing whey protein with carbs after an exercise can help make your bones stronger (23).

4. Cottage Cheese

Over the past few years, Greek yogurt has gained all the attention when it comes to getting a good source of dairy protein. But did you know that cottage cheese actually contains more protein, as well as under 3 grams of leucine per cup? This amount is good enough to help build and maintain muscle post-exercise (24). 

5. Kefir

A single cup of low-fat kefir contains 9.2 grams of high-quality protein, which can help repair new cells, including those in the muscles (25).  They contain essential amino acids, which can be obtained through your diet. 

6. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids can help boost muscle protein synthesis and increase the muscle cells size in healthy young and middle-aged adults (26). Excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon and tuna. Six ounces of tuna packed in water contains 41.6 grams of protein and 5.4 grams of fat (27). 

Another study revealed that consuming 6 grams of oil drawn from fatty fish every day for a week before resistance training may help relieve sore muscles (28). 

7. Chickpeas

Consuming fiber-rich foods after a workout can help replenish your blood sugar levels. Chickpeas contain both carbs and plant-based protein in one single pack. They make an excellent post-workout snack!

8. Sweet Potatoes

Carbs are needed for post-exercise recovery. Evidence shows that consuming carb-rich foods like potatoes and grains can help control the drop in your immune system that may happen after a strenuous exercise (29). The carbs you eat post-workout are more likely to be used as energy than stored as fat.

9. Nuts

A handful of nuts can give you fiber, protein, and healthy fats immediately after a workout to keep your stomach full until you can get something more substantial to eat. Always bring a small pack of almonds in your gym bag. Nuts are very versatile! You can top your salad with walnuts and more. 

10. Whole Grain Bread

Bread certainly gets a bad rap for dieters these days. But carbs are needed to help fuel your working muscles and your brain. Quality carbs like those present in whole-grain bread can go a long way in replenishing your muscles.

11. Quinoa

Here’s another powerful grain that you can add to your diet, especially if you are a vegan. This is loaded with protein and fiber.

12. Blueberries

Who doesn’t love blueberries? Aside from being delicious, they are packed with dietary fiber, protein, vitamins, and antioxidants. All types of exercise cause oxidative stress. For this reason, it is very important to consume antioxidant rich foods as your post-workout meal. Blueberries can also help accelerate muscle recovery time (30). You can incorporate blueberries into your diet in different ways. A post-training blueberry smoothie would be perfect! 

13. Avocado

Many people are a sucker for a good avocado. This fruit contains high amounts of magnesium, which can help improve performance parameters in both aerobic and anaerobic exercises (31). It also has a good value of potassium, which can regulate fluid balance and control the electrical activity of the heart and other muscles. It’s an excellent source of folate and vitamins B6, C, and K, which have anti-inflammatory properties that may help relieve exercise-induced stress.

14. Bananas

Bananas are excellent snacks that you can enjoy immediately after an exercise. It gives you carbs and potassium, which are muscle friendly nutrients. If you don’t like eating them raw, prepare a smoothie or mash them with peanut butter for a toast. 

15. Green Leafy Vegetables 

Just like blueberries and avocados, green leafy vegetables are also excellent post-workout foods. They are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and are low in calories. They can also help minimize free radicals released during training. There are several options to choose from. Check out spinach, kale, watercress, or arugula. 

16. Beet Salad 

Beets are very nutritious! They are rich in fiber but low in calories, making them a great addition to your salad. They also contain high amounts of dietary nitrates, which promotes the production of nitric oxide, an important molecule for blood vessel health. 

Studies have shown that nitrates from beets and other nitrate-rich veggies such as argula and spinach can help increase running performance and delay fatigue (32, 33). 

With mixed green salad as your base, just add one peeled and cubed cooked beet and top with goat cheese crumbles. You may also add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste! If you need a more substantial snack, add chickpeas, hard-boiled egg, or salmon for an extra protein boost. 

17. Watermelon 

Who doesn’t love watermelon? This summer picnic fruit has few calories and yet a good source of citrulline and lycopene. Just like dietary nitrates, citrulline can help your body produce more nitric oxide and relieve muscle soreness and delay fatigue (34, 35, 36). It also contains 91% water by weight, so it is also perfect for hydration (37). 

You can enjoy watermelon by itself or you can add it to other dishes such as salad for a more filling dish. Combine it with baby arugula, sliced red onions, cherry tomatoes, and feta cheese, you’ll get a nutrient-packed, post-workout snack. 

18. Hummus and Raw Veggies 

Your favorite hummus spread is made primarily from mashed garbanzo beans, along with other ingredients like garlic, salt, lemon juice, and olive oil. This is a perfect source of plant-based protein, offering nearly 8 grams per 100 gram serving (38). 

So rather than using chips to dip in hummus, why not grab low-calorie, nutrient-packed veggies such as carrots, celery, radishes, and more. 

19. Vegetable Omelet 

Packed with high-quality protein, eggs, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals are one of nature’s nutritional powerhouses. Experts say that an egg-containing breakfast can help enhance weight loss when combined with a low-calorie diet. This makes vegetable omelet a perfect breakfast for early morning runners (39, 40, 41). 

Stir in chopped tomatoes, fresh spinach, onions, mushrooms, and shredded cheese for a delicious, nutrient-packed breakfast. 

20. Grilled Chicken with Roasted Veggies 

Chicken contains high-quality, lean protein. A 4-ounce chicken breast contains 27 grams of protein, which is more than enough to start rebuilding muscles after running (42). But since poultry can be bland by itself, you can grill it and add a side of roasted veggies. 

Asparagus, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, and zucchini are perfect candidates. Add olive oil, garlic, and salt and pepper for flavoring.

21. Burrito Bowl 

Have you ever tried packing a burrito bowl for your post-workout meal? While it contains as much or as little food as you would like, it should have plenty of carbs and protein to replenish your energy stores and kick-start the recovery process. 

It is best to use brown rice along with black or pinto beans as your base. Next, top it with chicken or beef, which are good sources of lean protein. You can then pile on veggies of your choosing and top it off with sour cream, salsa, and cheese. 

22. Salmon with Rice and Asparagus 

Salmon is not just an excellent source of protein, it is likewise healthy for the heart because of its omega-3 fatty acid content. 

Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, omega-3 fatty acids have been studied for their role in decreasing heart disease and cancer risks (43, 44, 45, 46). Also, they have been linked to exercise recovery, making salmon a good post-workout protein source (47, 48, 49).  

Pair your salmon with a few cups of rice and spears of asparagus for a delicious recovery meal! 

23. Herbal Tea

Herbal tea contains several nutrients and compounds that can help the body process protein and carbohydrates more effectively. Yerba mate was found to be effective in helping participants recover their strength faster within 24 hours after a workout (50). Another research in mice revealed that yerba mate extract can boost metabolism and help expend more energy (51). 

24. Tart Cherry Juice

Tart cherry juice is rich in antioxidants and has several anti-inflammatory compounds that have been effective in helping athletes recover from intense exercise, but it is not limited to weight training (52). Tart cherry juice can also help lower systolic blood pressure approximately 90 minutes after a workout. Evidence also shows that it can promote sleep (53). 

25. Water

It is very important to keep yourself well hydrated before, during, and after exercise. The body loses water and electrolytes while sweating, so drinking a lot of water can help promote performance and recovery. 

Key Takeaway

Taking the right foods and drinks to fuel your body after a workout will be the most important part of achieving your fitness goals. Plan and prepare a healthy post-workout meal or snack. Remember to replenish your fluids and electrolytes by drinking more water before, during, and after an exercise. Carbohydrates, proteins, and some fats can help encourage muscle protein production and promote recovery with the most promising results. 

References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18834505

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12750588

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9252485

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(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23360586

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9694422/ 

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10331397

(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10658002 

(13) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24149627

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1601794/

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(16) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16679981

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14978010

(18) https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-5-17 

(19) https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijsnem/25/5/article-p448.xml 

(20) https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/106/6/1401/4823156

(21) https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0175-x 

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17413102

(23) https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2017/06000/The_Effect_of_Postexercise_Carbohydrate_and.18.aspx

(24) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19403715 

(25) https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/01289?fgcd=&manu=&format=&count=&max=25&offset=&sort=default&order=asc&qlookup=kefir&ds=&qt=&qp=&qa=&qn=&q=&ing=

(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21501117

(27) https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/15126?fgcd=&manu=&format=&count=&max=25&offset=&sort=default&order=asc&qlookup=canned+tuna&ds=&qt=&qp=&qa=&qn=&q=&ing= 

(28) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19390211.2016.1205701 

(29) https://www.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/japplphysiol.00622.2016

(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583121/

(31) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5622706/

(32) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29786633

(33) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27600147

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(35) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26023227

(36) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20386132

(37) https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/167765/nutrients

(38) https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/339294/nutrients

(39) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18679412

(40) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16373948 

(41) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6073477/ 

(42) https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/483874/nutrients 

(43) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20847412?dopt=Abstract

(44) https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/

(45) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19148838?dopt=Abstract

(46) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22591896?dopt=Abstract

(47) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30484702

(48) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5986432/

(49) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3737804/

(50) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26917157

(51) https://synapse.koreamed.org/DOIx.php?id=10.5625/lar.2012.28.1.23

(52) https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-08/wsw-nsm080316.php

(53) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22038497

 

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