So, you just finished a tough workout. What’s your body up to? For starters, your muscles are probably feeling a bit depleted (unless perhaps your body is fat-adapted and uses primarily stored body fat for fuel—as in the case of people on a ketogenic diet). Why? Muscles use up a lot of their stored glycogen (derived from carbohydrates) in order for you to train intensely. Post-workout, your body is also in a state of heightened responsiveness to the hormone insulin. Insulin is a key player in shuttling glycogen back into the muscles, so this hypersensitivity a good thing. Additionally, your muscles are likely dealing with protein breakdown and microfiber damage—a normal consequence of training that sets you up for the rebuilding process, which is where strength gains actually come about. At this point, your body needs to do a few things. Tasks include:
- Preventing excessive muscle protein breakdown and inflammation.
- Synthesizing (making more) muscle protein.
- Refilling the glycogen stores in the muscles.
- Stimulating muscle fiber repair and regrowth.
Given how important all these steps are for health and performance, it’s no wonder so many studies have been done on ways to leverage the overall process. And nutrition—specifically in the post-workout window—is consistently recognized as one of the essential controllable factors we need to influence if we want to recover properly, reduce injury risk, and optimize gains In other words: what (and even when) you eat after your workout does matter. Not sure if you’re doing it right? Discover a few key tips based on the research.
4 Strategies to Master Your Post-Workout Nutrition & Recovery
1. Focus on carbs and protein.
Eating carbohydrates after your workout is essential for replenishing your muscles with glycogen. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, an optimal dose is around 0.5–0.7 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. This may be more important after a longer workout or on days with multiple training sessions, meaning you may need less carbs after bodybuilding or resistance-type training. Likewise, consuming protein post-workout helps guide the muscle repair synthesis process, with a standard recommended dose around 20-30 grams. Carbs and protein appear to have a mutually beneficial effect, meaning that glycogen and protein synthesis is more robust when these macronutrients are consumed together. Consider both quantity and quality when selecting which types of foods will appear on your post-workout window. Some timeless favorites include sweet potatoes, rice, and fruit (for carbs), and chicken, eggs, and salmon (for protein).
2. Consider dosing supplements.
For some people, eating an actual meal within 30 minutes after a workout is either inconvenient or intolerable, so opting for a protein shake in this case can be helpful. Adding some supplements to your post-workout diet can also make up for what may be missing in a lot of our conventionally grown foods. Here a few star favorites to experiment with:
- DHA and EPA omega 3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation
- Hydrolyzed collagen protein, which aids creatinine production (important for strength development and muscle contraction)
- Branched chain amino acids, which helps with protein synthesis, muscle repair, and accelerated recovery (these are the so-called “building blocks” of protein)
3. Refuel within 30 minutes post-workout.
The reason for this is simple: the altered physiological state your body achieves following a workout only lasts for so long. So, it’s ideal to consume your carbs, protein, and supplements before the tides turn and your body returns to a more homeostatic state—in other words, pretty much as soon as you peel yourself off the gym floor.
4. Add a pinch of sea salt to your water.
You lose certain electrolytes and trace minerals through your sweat during exercise. Replenishing your body with these nutrients is important for minimizing issues like muscle cramping and soreness. But skip the Gatorade, please. These “electrolyte” drinks are loaded with artificial ingredients and sugar. Instead, try a pinch of unrefined sea salt in some water and be sure to be consuming plenty of antioxidant- and mineral-rich veggies on the reg.