Exactly What to Eat After You Exercise to Refuel and Recover Fast
Just in time for Global Running Day, this is the best way to refuel after a sweat session.
It may sound counterintuitive, but eating is one of the most important parts of having a worthwhile workout. Forget to nosh on something before you exercise and you could easily end up dizzy, drained, and not up to any amount of physical activity. It's likely you've given your pre-workout nourishment a bit more thought than the post-sweat snack party, but what you eat on the other end of your workout matters, too. This is because your muscles get depleted of glycogen when exercising; proteins in your muscles get broken down as well. Picking exactly what to eat and when is a key component in giving your body what it needs to stay energized and hydrated, and the right foods will help you build lean muscle and speed up recovery.
Let's start by outlining the main nutritional components you'll be looking for.
Carbohydrates: They're the main source of fuel for your muscles (and really, your entire body), so eating carbs 20 to 60 minutes after exercise is a smart way to make sure you'll properly refuel your glycogen stores and store the carbs consumed as energy. If you're practicing high-impact cardio or any endurance sports (like running, swimming, or spinning), you'll likely need to eat more carbs post-workout than those doing weight-training. Same goes for those who exercise frequently versus those who rest for a couple days between sweat sessions—the more often you hit the gym, the more you'll need to rebuild you glycogen stores.
Protein: Having protein after exercise gives your body the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild your muscles. It also gives you the building blocks required to form new muscle tissue—i.e. get stronger.
Your best bet is a combination of carbs and protein. As a rule of thumb, try to eat something with a 3:1 ratio of the two. But that's confusing, so here are some easy, delicious ideas for smart food selections to refuel your body after you hit the pavement (...or gym, yoga mat, spin bike, boxing ring, or maybe just your laundry list of errands). We've included both snack and meals, so you can choose what pairs well with your workout and hunger level.
- Coffee protein shake: Blend a banana, scoop of vanilla protein powder, oat milk, and a shot of espresso with ice. You'll be energized all afternoon.
- Banana nut butter toast: Top a slice of sprouted grain toast with cashew butter and half a sliced banana. For a spiced spin, sprinkle cinnamon on top.
- Acaí bowl: Channel your inner fitness influencer and serve your acai with sliced kiwi, blackberries, chia seeds, almond butter, and cacao nibs.
- Black bean tacos: Scoop black beans, guac, and roasted red peppers into corn tortillas. For a breakfast version, add eggs and cotija cheese.
- Sweet potatoes: Roast them and serve with salmon for a heart-healthy lunch or dinner.
- Tofu grain bowl: Top cooked grains (like quinoa or brown rice) with sauteed veggies and tofu. Mix lime juice with soy sauce, sesame oil, and fresh ginger for a simple sauce to serve it with.
- Hummus toast: It's the latest and greatest toast trend. Make a caprese version by spreading hummus on whole-wheat bread and adding sliced tomatoes, fresh herbs, and mozzarella slices.
- Chocolate milk: Not an old wive's tale. In a pinch, it'll serve as a solid combination of carbs and protein, plus it's easy to make and take on the go.
- Apple cheddar omelets: Don't knock it until you've tried it. Sprinkle your eggs with cheddar cheese until it's melted, then add apple slices at the end before you fold it all together.
- Nicoise salad: Spinach, potatoes, tuna, hard boiled eggs = ladies-who-lunch perfection.