Are you someone who starts chugging protein and BCAA’s the second you rack your weights so you don’t miss the gains train? Or do you tend to skip post-workout meals because life’s busy and you don’t have time? If you fall into the first camp, you can relax a little. Lifters used to live and die by their anabolic window, a short period of time following training where our muscles are most likely to absorb all the nutrients of our post-workout fuel. While the recommendation is to eat within 60 minutes of exercise for maximal recovery, the latest research shows that you aren’t derailing your progress if you sit down to eat at 61 minutes post-workout. That said, if you’re skipping meals post-workout to achieve a larger deficit, you could be doing your body more harm. Our recovery is really what determines our strength and fitness. If we neglect to eat after draining our bodies of resources, we can’t start the recovery process and optimize our growth and muscle adaption. Your workouts are never wasted, but if you aren’t fueling properly after your session, they also aren’t optimized. Keep reading to learn what to eat after a workout, along with some of our go-to recipes that will help you maximize your exercise.
Focus on protein. The primary fuel source in your pre-workout meal is carbohydrates, but protein is king when it comes to post-workout nutrition. We put our bodies under significant stress when we workout. That stress results in small microtears in our muscles, which then heal and adapt to become stronger, faster, fitter etc. The adaptation process is directly related to how well we recover, and our recovery is directly related to our nutrition and movement. Think about a time when you did a really hard workout and didn’t stretch afterward. How did your muscles feel the next day? Probably pretty stiff. Our bodies require movement to increase blood flow to those areas that were depleted during exercise. If we don’t move, and we don’t fuel, those muscles aren’t able to get the nutrients they need to recover optimally. So when it comes to what to eat after a workout, start with protein. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are both the building blocks and damage control of our bodies. Experts recommend refueling with roughly 20 – 30 grams of protein after training, but it doesn’t need to be right when you get finished. We mentioned the anabolic window before and while you won’t do yourself any harm by having your protein source immediately following exercise, you won’t miss out on your gains if you wait until you get home either. Try to prioritize getting your protein in within 60 – 90 minutes following your workout for the most impact.
Don’t forget about carbs. If protein is king when it comes to your post-workout meal, then carbs are queens and also extremely important. As we discussed in our blog about what to eat before a workout, glucose (both stored and available) is the primary fuel source for our muscles when we exercise. After our workout ends, those sources are depleted and need to be replaced. And what’s the biggest source of glucose? Carbs! Having 20 – 30 grams of carbs post-workout will help your muscles feel fuller and start to build back up your glycogen stores.
Minimize fats. Just like with your pre-workout meal, it’s best to minimize fats post-workout if you’re trying to optimize your digestion and nutrient timing. Fats can slow digestion and if you’re trying to start the recovery process right away, it may be optimal to limit fats until you’ve had a high-protein, high-carb meal. That said, you won’t diminish the benefits from your recovery meal if you do eat fats after a workout. You’ll notice in some of our recipes below, we include a little bit of fat in the form of peanut butter, whole eggs, and fats from meat.
So now that we’ve talked about what to eat after a workout, let’s get into the good stuff…the recipes!
This is one of the easiest post-workout meals to prep in bulk and take on the go. It’s high in carbs, high in protein, and can be totally customized to you based on your preferences and goals. Here’s our go-to:
- 1/2 c old fashioned oats
- 1 scoop protein powder of choice, we love Momentous
- 1 c milk of choice, our choice is almond milk
- Cinnamon to taste
- Drizzle of honey or maple syrup
- Top with 1/4 c blueberries
- Combine all the ingredients in a jar or glass container that can be tightly sealed. Store in the fridge for up to 2 days and enjoy!
Whole Egg Omelette
If you’re strictly dieting or competing in bodybuilding, you may want to sub whole eggs for egg whites, which contain zero grams of fat. Otherwise, do yourself a favor and eat the whole egg. Not only do egg yolks contain additional protein, they are rich in many nutrients and flavor. You can customize this however you like, but this is our favorite recipe.
- 2 whole eggs
- 125 grams egg whites
- Avocado oil spray
- 1 english muffin, toasted
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Any veggies you want to include (post-workout, we usually skip these because they’re harder to digest than straight carbs and protein)
Place a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat. Whisk whole eggs and egg whites in a bowl until frothy. Spray your pan well with avocado oil, then pour your eggs in an even layer in the pan. Turn the heat down ever so slightly and allow the omelette to begin cooking. While your omelette is cooking, toast an english muffin. Top with butter, a drizzle of honey, and a pinch of salt.
Once it looks like it’s nearly set but is still wet on top, gently fold it into thirds. Remove from heat and let it continue to cook if you like it well done.
Chicken and Rice
She’s a staple for a reason. Chicken and rice is a low glycemic meal that delivers a completely customizable amount of protein and carbs with only a little fat. Dress it up with a sauce you enjoy (only use a little sauce if you prefer a sugary one), eat it plain, or drizzle it with lemon juice and olive oil. No matter how you serve it, this is a literal winner, winner, chicken dinner.
- 4 – 6 oz cooked chicken, sliced or shredded
- 1/2 – 1 c jasmine or brown rice, cooked (pro tip: cook this is bone broth or chicken stock for more flavor!)
- Sauce of choice
Prepare your chicken in bulk in whatever manner you prefer. We like sticking it in the crockpot for a few hours to slow cook and then shredding it, or grilling and slicing it when we’re ready to eat.
Prepare your rice, either by steaming it in the package or making it on the stovetop.
Portion out your chicken and rice according to your fitness and nutrition goals. We offered a portion recommendation range, but every person’s nutrition goals are unique!
This classic is never going away. It’s quick to make, easy to digest, and does the job perfectly every time. Use the protein, milk and fruit of your choice for a balanced, effective post-workout meal. If you’re not sure what to include in your shake, here’s one of our go-to recipes.
- 1 scoop of protein, again we love Momentous
- 1 scoop of glutamine
- 1 scoop of Red Leaf Collagen Peptides (right now, you can get a FREE Collagen Peptides when you spend $50+)
- 1 cup almond milk
- 1/2 banana, peeled
- 1/4 c blueberries
- 1/2 – 1 tbsp nut butter of choice
Combine all ingredients in a blender, pour into a large glass, and enjoy!
Your post-workout meal is about as important as the workout itself. In order to maximize the benefits of exercise, you have to make sure you fuel properly with protein and carbs after the workout. Subscribe to redleafnutrition.com for more recipes, fitness tips, workouts, and healthy living blogs!