Expert Contributor

healthy post workout foods

Are you wasting the time you spend working out with poor post-workout meal choices? Your body needs specific nutrients to recover physically after a strenuous workout. These same foods will leave you mentally reenergized and ready to take on your day. The quality of muscle recovery and building after training relies largely on what goes into your body. So, what should you be eating?

In 2009, The American College of Sports and Medicine and the American Dietetic Association found that hydrated muscles nourished with carbs and proteins are most able to recover properly. Your muscles are made of tiny stretchy strands that wear down and tear apart when you push them through a workout. Meals high in protein ensure that they will be able to recover properly, by supplying the raw materials and amino acids for the fibers to grow thicker and stronger.

You’ve probably been told that you need to guzzle protein powder within a magical hour-long period following you workout; however, that’s not always true. After you give it your all at the gym and damage your muscles, their ability to heal and amp up from protein picks up for about 24 hours post-workout. There’s no sudden drop off; it’s more of a steady fall throughout the day, during which you’ll need to consume a lot of protein. Try spacing out your protein intake in 20 gram chunks, four times a day. I also recommend taking a supplement of BCAA. Athletes use branched-chain amino acids(BCAA) to improve exercise performance and reduce protein and muscle breakdown during intense exercise. Branched-chain amino acids are essential nutrients that the body obtains from proteins found in food, especially meat, dairy products and legumes. They include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. “Branched-chain” refers to the chemical structure of these amino acids.

When it comes to recovery, protein can’t go it alone. Carbs are the perfect soulmate. That sweat you shed at the gym wasn’t earned easily—it’s the product of exhausting tangible banks of energy within your body. Glycogen stores are your body’s gas tanks, and your workout just left them close to empty. They need to be topped off again before you can build lean muscle, and that’s one of the most important ways carbs come into play during recovery.

The ACS/ADA recommends eating a carbohydrate snack 30 minutes after your workout, .5 to .7 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight, followed by a full meal within the first two hours. You’ll want low-glycemic carbs that provide a sustained supply of energy, so try greek yogurt with granola, a protein and banana smoothie, apple slices and yogurt, or hummus on gluten-free pita. In the end, being conscious of your nutrition after each session shouldn’t be an afterthought, so don’t sell yourself short. Getting the most out of your workout doesn’t stop at the gym.