What to Eat After a Workout
It’s not as intuitive as you might think.
This may seem a bit counterintuitive to everything we’ve been saying since, well, the whole green juice revolution, but there are rumors floating around (like here and here) saying that a Big Mac and fries might actually be better after a workout than, say, your typical supplements and protein shakes. OK, so we’ll admit that might be the whole reason we spent a solid 60 minutes (3,600 seconds, not that we’re counting or anything) on a bike the other day... You know, to create a large enough caloric deficit to somehow validate our gluttony (not that we need such excuses at 2:00 AM on a Saturday). But to say that it’s actually good for us to eat a greasy meat patty post-sweat? We were skeptical, to say the least. Sure, if it were left completely up to us, we’d totally bank on that one lone study from the University of Montana, which claims that fast food is just as good as what you’d get down the health food aisle, but…
Being the investigative types that we are—that, and the simple fact that we actually listen to our gut, figuratively and literally—we thought we should probably get a second opinion in the form of experts like Andrew Speer (best known for his prowess with Christy Turlington-Burns’ bod), Sarah Britton (she penned our much-loved cookbook and blog), and uber-nutritionists Dana James and Emily van Raay.
Co-Founder and Trainer, SoHo Strength Lab. New York
“The best way to replenish immediately following a workout is with liquids. I like either water or watermelon juice with BCAAs. This stops muscle wasting and replenishes blood sugar.”
Eat for Your Goals
“Eat 15-30 min after training, if possible. I always ask ‘What are your training goals?’ when answering this question.
“FOR WEIGHT LOSS, I like 15-30g of protein (depending on body weight) and about the same grams of carbohydrates.
Low-fat Greek yogurt
Quality grass-fed whey protein shake
Grilled chicken on salad
“FOR MUSCLE GAIN, I like 15-30g of protein and 30-60g of carbs.
Greek yogurt with fruit
Sweet potato and sliced turkey
Grilled chicken and rice”
Author; Founder, My New Roots. Copenhagen
“I think replenishing electrolytes after a workout is key, especially if I’ve been sweating a lot, so I make a drink of mostly water, some freshly squeezed orange and lemon juice, a little raw honey, sea salt, and chia seeds.”
“After that, I usually enjoy a pretty hearty meal.
“IF IT’S BREAKFAST TIME, a big smoothie with all kinds of fruits and veggies, superfoods, coconut oil, and plant milk is a favorite.
“IF IT’S LUNCH OR DINNER, I’ll have some sourdough rye with avocado, a soft-boiled egg, or a big grain-and-lentil salad. I feel that balancing fats, proteins, and carbohydrates after a workout is especially important, since I’ve been using ALL of those macronutrients up, either during the workout itself or in recovery.”
Founder & Director, Food Coach NYC. New York
“You will get the best results if you tailor your post-workout snacks to your workout.”
“Have coconut water with a splash of lime. This helps to revitalize the body by replenishing glycogen and electrolytes lost during the workout. It’s also refreshing and helps to abate sugar cravings!”
“Make a cherry smoothie made with almond milk, beets, and vegan protein powder. Cherries help to decrease inflammation from intense training, while the vegan protein powder prevents muscle catabolism. The beets help to restore glycogen levels, which have been depleted during a long run or cycle.”
“Eat two hard-boiled eggs with sea salt served with hummus and cucumber slices. This combination gives you protein from the eggs combined with some carbs from the hummus and cucumber, which helps to transport the amino acids into the muscle cells for recovery and stronger performance the following day.”
“Make a green smoothie with a vegan protein powder, coconut milk, spinach, avocado, and chlorophyll. If you want to re-sculpt your muscles, it’s vital that protein follows your workout so that the muscles have enough amino acids for recovery and reshaping. Greens from the spinach and chlorophyll help to abate the free radicals that are generated during intense exercise, plus they are alkaline, which reduces the lactic acid buildup.”
Emily van Raay
HHC & Founder, Models For Wellness. New York
“A balance of carbs, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and foods rich in antioxidants are FOUR categories where you’ll find the most nourishing and replenishing foods for your post-exercise snack or meal. Depending on what it is that you’re trying to achieve, one category may be a little more top-heavy than the others. If you’ve done a lot of strength training (muscle tear), it’s important to restore the muscle tissue with protein post-workout.”
“Some lean protein-rich foods that I like post-workout are eggs (hard-boiled; you can boil them before you work out and leave them to cool while you’re at the gym!), lean meats like turkey or chicken, Greek yogurt, beans, fish (salmon is my favorite), and dark green leafy veggies like kale have loads of protein.
“When it comes to how much protein you should have, I always say measure with your hand. Yes, some foods have more protein than others, but stick to what feels good for your body, and keep it lean and healthy, and you’ll want about a hand-sized portion. If you’ve done a lot of strength training and really want to keep it lean, go for the kale, but make sure you have three cups or more (a couple handfuls), and you will have had just as much protein as is found in two eggs, plus a load of vitamins and minerals you’d be missing from just having the eggs.”
“Working out increases inflammation in the body for a short while after working out, so eating antioxidant-rich foods like blueberries, other dark-colored fruits, avocados, and healthy oils helps reduce inflammation and speeds up recovery. The omega-3 fatty acids found in many of these foods, like avocados and low-sugar nut butters, will help replenish your energy levels and keep you from crashing or having low energy post-workout—something you don’t want, especially if you’re in a morning workout routine!”
The Importance of Carbs
“Carbs are important as well, for replenishing energy. People often shy away from carbs, but it’s important to educate yourself on the importance of good carbs in our diets, especially for those who are spending a lot of energy on workouts. Carbs are big energy replenishers, and the GOOD carbs (NOT refined or processed) are not something to shy away from if you want to see results in your workouts.”
Here is a list of low-glycemic-index carbs that are good for post-workout:
Beans & legumes (also high in protein)
Whole-grain sprouted toast (lots of vitamins)
“Most importantly, remember that working out should be about FEELING good, not achieving a certain size/measurement in order to be happy. That is by far my biggest tip. Your food choices should aid you in feeling good.”
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