As long as working out has been a thing, so has the post workout meal.
You’re told that you must eat after your workout or build less muscle mass, recover slower and achieve less.
Does this still hold true or is the post workout meal now a thing of the past?
Then there’s all the other questions too;
“What should I eat?”
“When should I eat it?”
“How much should I eat?”
“Does it even matter?”
This article will explore these questions and more to give you a definitive answer on post workout nutrition once and for all.
What is Post Workout Nutrition?
Post workout nutrition is the food or drink you eat after your workout and is usually consumed with 30 minutes to 3 hours after you’ve finished your workout.
Post workout nutrition has 3 functions;
The reduction of muscle fatigue and soreness
Replenish muscle glycogen (stored energy) that was used in your workout
Increase muscle protein synthesis (1) and reduce the muscle protein breakdown caused by exercise
The overall goal is to assist with recovery, encourage the growth or maintenance of lean muscle mass and restock your energy used during working out.
Like with pre workout nutrition, what you eat after your workout can be optimised to better suit your needs and your goals.
What Should You Eat After You Work Out?
Your post workout meal can be a solid meal or a protein shake depending on your preferences, how busy you are and what you have available.
As for what to eat, you want to get a good serving of protein and some carbohydrates.
In your post workout meal protein helps to encourage muscle maintenance and growth. Whilst carbs help to restore levels of glycogen in the body after intense workouts.
As for fat, you can include some in your post workout meal if you like but it doesn’t impact your recovery or muscle building potential like protein and carbs do.
How Soon After Working Out Should You Eat Your Post Workout Meal?
The general consensus for post workout nutrition is to eat within 30 – 60 mins of your workout, getting at least a good dose of protein with the addition of carbohydrates if possible.
However, this timing is not set in stone and depends on the timing of your other meals and whether you had a pre workout meal or not and if you’re going to train again later in the day.
Sensible guidelines are to have a post workout meal if you either didn’t have a pre workout meal or are going to train again later in the day. Otherwise you can get away without a post workout meal if you ate a pre workout meal.
As for what you should eat or drink for this meal, I’ve got you covered there too.
What to Eat After You Work Out: The Details
Pulling together all the details we’ve talked about so far, here are you post workout nutrition guidelines;
Eat within 30 – 120 mins of finishing your workout
Aim to get 30 – 40 grams of protein
If possible or if you’re training again later in the day also get 30 – 60 grams of carbs
Fat is non-essential in your post workout meal but can be included if you want
You can eat or drink your post workout meal depending on what you prefer or what is most convenient.
Best Post Workout Meals to Eat (or Drink) After You’ve Been to the Gym
The following foods make great options as meals or shakes to get you fuelled up and ready to go.
Rice: a great source of carbs, rice is a fantastic option if you’re going to eat a post workout meal and want/need to restore your glycogen levels
Potatoes: both the white and sweet potato varieties make great additions to your post workout meal when combined with a source of lean protein
Pasta: like rice and potatoes pasta is another great source of carbohydrate for those looking to eat a full meal after working out
Cottage Cheese: high protein, low fat, cheap and easy to transport a tub of cottage cheese makes a great post workout snack for those looking for protein boost without the carbs
Tuna: easily mixed with rice, potatoes or pasta, low in calories and high in protein tuna is the perfect post workout food for meat eaters looking for a change and pescatarians alike
Chicken: or any other lean animal source of protein is perfect for giving you the 30 – 40 grams of protein you need after working out
Protein Powders: whey or other protein powders are perfect for post workout protein hits and can be mixed with water or milk, as well as fruit and/or oats to give you the complete mix of macros you need before working out
Should You Use Post Workout Supplements?
Post workout supplements, although not as plentiful as pre workout ones are still an option when trying to get the most out of your training.
As usual it becomes a question of “do I need post workout supplements?” and “if I want to take something what should I take?”
Let’s answer these questions.
Knowing that you need a good dose of protein after your workout to help maintain and build muscle mass, protein shakes are a no-brainer.
They’re generally pretty cheap and come in a wide variety of flavours to suit all tastes.
Additionally, they can be bought with the addition of carbohydrates or mixed with fruit, oats and milk to provide a well-rounded post workout meal.
Verdict: quick, convenient and fit for purpose protein shakes are a great choice for post workout nutrition if you aren’t going to have a full meal or don’t have the time to make something else.
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance in the body which fuels intense activity like strength training. Supplementing with creatine ‘tops up’ your available stores and can increase strength and muscle mass. (2, 3, 4)
Verdict: creatine has varying effects on different people; it’s not essential but can help improve performance when used regularly. As it makes no difference when you take it, it can be included as part of post workout nutrition.
Branch chain amino acids or BCAAs as they are more commonly known, are a protein supplement that can be taken in power or pill form to help prevent the breakdown of lean muscle mass when working out. (8, 9)
Their use as a supplement is largely thought to be useless when you include a pre workout meal or drink in your routine. However, there are some experts who recommend their use when training in a fasted state to help negate muscle breakdown.
Verdict: not necessary as part of your post workout supplement unless you trained fasted and will continue to fast post workout.
You want to stay hydrated throughout the day and make sure you’re hydrated before, during and after your workout for optimal performance and recovery. (12)
Verdict: drink your damn water.
Do You Have to Have Post Workout Nutrition? The Anabolic Window
It used to be that you had a set ‘window’ of time to eat in after you’d finished working out otherwise you wouldn’t get the full benefits of your training.
Yet current research shows this isn’t quite as clear cut as it used to be. (13) Researchers found that a post workout meal was only needed if a pre workout meal had not be eaten prior to working out.
The study concluded that unless you were training again that same day or hadn’t eaten a pre workout meal then you did not need to a post workout meal.
Overall, your total calorie and macro intake over the day is of much more importance than whether you have a post workout meal. (14)
If you’re looking for some post workout nutrition guidelines, here they are;
Ate within 4 hours of training: if you can’t have a post workout meal, don’t sweat it, just aim to hit your calorie and macro goals across the day
Didn’t have a pre workout meal (or ate 4+ hours before): it would be beneficial for you to have a post workout meal consisting of protein or a mix of protein and carbs
Are training again later: if you’re training twice in 1 day then you’ll be best served by having a post workout meal made up of carbs and protein
Post workout nutrition is important in helping you recover from workouts and maintain or build muscle mass.
The usual recommendations are to get at least 30 – 40 grams of protein within 1 – 2 hours of working out.
If possible, it can also be beneficial to get 30 – 60 grams of carbs in your post workout meal too. Particularly, if you’re training twice in the same day or didn’t have a pre workout meal.
Post workout supplements like creatine and protein shakes can be both convenient and beneficial but are not essential. However, hydration is a priority.