What to Eat After a Gym Workout

by: Gerry Morton, CEO of EnergyFirst, MS in Nutrition

You’ve come a long way. Your motivation is through the roof. Your workout days are scheduled and your regimen well thought-out for your personal fitness goals. Anything missing? 

It’s time to hone in on your post-workout nutritional needs. Does your current post-workout routine

  • Replenish your body’s energy stores?
  • Supply the nutrients your body needs to repair tissue damage?
  • Encourage a positive muscle response (that is, the maintenance or, if desired, an increase in muscle tissue)?

Studies show that consuming the proper ratio of nutrients after your workout can not only recover or replenish what was damaged or used up but it also leads to an increase in fitness. In other words, your body doesn’t just “compensate” for what was lost. It supercompensates.

toned body
Okay, we might not get that shredded…but #goals.

On the flipside, inadequate post-workout nutrition can lead to more fatigue, muscle soreness, reduced performance at your next session, and less muscle mass gains.

Even though you may have eaten earlier in the day or plan on eating later in the day, a post-workout snack within 30 minutes to 2 hours will help you get the most out of your workout.

Effective Post-workout Nutrition

Effective post-workout snacks include 2 elements:

Carbohydrates (approximately 1-1.5 grams per kg body weight) to replace glycogen stores.

Protein to provide amino acids. As opposed to pre-workout snacks that usually contain only carbohydrate, your post-workout one needs protein for muscle repair and rebuild.  In general, the amount needed is quite modest (as much as 20-25 grams). Anything greater than this is usually just burned as fuel.

Regardless of what your personal goals and preferences are, generally speaking, your post-workout snack needs to have a good balance of proteins and carbohydrates from whole foods. If there is any fat, you want it to be a low to moderate amount. Also, avoid high-calorie, highly-processed foods.

So, what are some foods to include in your gym bag?

active diet
Does your bag look this organized?

A great rapidly digesting protein that efficiently stimulates muscle protein synthesis is whey protein. Whey protein isolate from a quality, whole food source like milk from grass-fed cows can be blended into a shake with a carbohydrate source (such as 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of fruit).

  • What makes shakes so great?
    If you don’t have much of an appetite after working out, this is a great way to pack some nutrition in. Oftentimes, liquids are more easily tolerated than solids after working out. As a plus, you can make a meal out of it. Make a protein-rich green smoothie by mixing in a serving of an organic green drink powder to pack in several servings of vegetables and a tablespoon of an omega-3 oil or avocado for healthy fat.
  • Low-fat chocolate milk has long been touted for its post-exercise benefits. The reason is because of its favorable protein and carbohydrate content. It has about 8 to 11 grams of protein, and extra carbohydrate.
  • Whole grain crackers with peanut butter (avoid partially hydrogenated oils in the “ingredients” list)
  • Whole grain crackers or 1 slice of toast with 1-2 hard-boiled, farm-fresh eggs
  • Lean, roasted, whole-cut ham with grapes
  • Grass-fed beef jerky with piece of fruit (such as orange or grapes)
  • Natural protein bar with fruit (no hydrogenated oils)
  • Sweet potato slices dipped in tahini (for a 100% plant-based soups/snack)
  • Greek-yogurt with berries and muesli
  • Roasted turkey breast slice with part-skim mozzarella cheese and 1 slice of whole grain bread
  • Almond butter and banana
  • Tuna with 1 slice of whole grain toast or fruit
  • Chicken (canned with no salt) and 1/2 cup of quinoa
  • Whole wheat pita with hummus

Extending the Post-Workout Routine

Now that you’ve got adequate nutrients (including protein) in your post-workout snack, you can further enhance the rate of muscle protein synthesis by making sure of one thing: get enough protein throughout the day. Your muscle is stimulated to increase its protein synthesis rates for up to 24 hours after your workout.

crunches abs
You got this!

Like peanut butter on toast, evenly spread your protein intake throughout the day. Don’t pile it all up for dinner time. Plan to distribute some of your protein intake into your other meals and snacks as well.

Some commonly-used protein foods include:

  • Greek yogurt (6 oz): 18 grams
  • Mozzarella (part skim, 1 oz): 7 grams
  • Soy nuts (1 oz): 12 grams
  • Pinto beans (1/2 cup): 11 grams
  • Salmon (3 oz): 22 grams
  • Tuna (3 oz): 22 grams
  • Chicken (3 oz): 28 grams
  • Turkey (roasted, 3 oz) 25 grams
  • Egg, large (1): 6 grams

Hydration – Don’t Forget it!

We cannot discuss post-workout nutrition without touching the subject of proper hydration. Staying well-hydrated is important before, during, and after workouts. For most athletes, consuming 16-24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost after exercise is a good rule of thumb.

When workouts last longer than 60 minutes and/or increase in intensity, simply drinking water may not be enough. Electrolytes lost through sweat can be replenished with a sports drink.

Beyond the Post-workout Meal

It goes without saying that eating a healthy diet all day long, regardless of whether you worked out or not, will help you maximize your success. Context matters. You need more than just a healthy, planned post and pre-workout meal/snack. You need overall healthy nutrition during the entire day.

Food sources are turned into energy that helps power us through our day. Not only do we consume the foods we digest, but so do the bacteria living our gut. That is why Thryve works with you on a prebiotic-rich diet plan when you join their gut health program.

When Thryve tests your microbiome with their at-home test kit, they formulate a personalized probiotic just for you. Knowing which bacteria is in your system, they come up with a diet plan to help the bacteria survive. These are just some of the perks of the Thryve Gut Health Program.

Since every individual has different tolerance levels, experiment with these standard suggestions a bit. If needed, make minor tweaks in your routine until you find out what works best for you and your performance.

Happy exercise! Then, happy post-exercise eating!

Gerry Morton is the CEO of EnergyFirst, holds an MS in Nutrition and is an experienced athlete who has competed in 30+ marathons and 4 Iron-man triathlons. Gerry is an excellent source of information on nutrition, supplementation and exercise. http://www.energyfirst.com is known for offering the world’s best tasting, highest quality, all natural, premium nutrition products such as pure whey protein powder, green drinks, superfood green energy bars, health supplements etc. Twitter: @EnergyFirst