Move over breakfast, you’re no longer the most important meal of the day.

What’s the most important meal of the day you ask? For me, it’s the post-workout meal.

Our fitness progress relies heavily on our nutritional fuel intake. Calories from protein and carbohydrates allow for energy and power throughout your workout but are also used to rebuild muscle and replenish glucose reserves after you’re done.

Right after an intense workout you have a critical window to refuel for optimal results. The timing of your meals is important, but also what you’re eating can have a major influence on your fitness progress.

During a workout, your muscles are depleted of fuel. Using up available glucose first and then tapping into stored glucose.

Just like a car, once you run out of gas, you won’t be able to continue your journey without filling up again. The same happens when you use up your energy quickly during a workout. Muscle fatigue starts setting in and you start feeling worn out. This means it’s time to stop, refuel and recover.

Timing of Post-Workout Meal

During your fitness sesh your muscles are rapidly burning through energy. Glucose from carbohydrates is the main source of energy and is stored in muscles as glycogen.

During the first half of your workout you’re using immediate energy from what you previously drank/ate right before. After this supply runs out, you then tap into your stored energy reserves. However, stored energy isn’t as rapidly available so you start to become fatigued.

To prevent muscle loss, you need to stop and refuel, otherwise, your body will take glucose and protein from other areas, like other muscle groups. This will stunt your overall progress.

Once the fatigue sets in you know it’s time to refuel, but what you eat can determine how effective your workout was. Your fitness goals need to align with your workouts, but more importantly, your diet. Diet and exercise are equally as important. You can’t outwork a poor diet. So if you want to get the most out of your workouts ensure you’re refueling in the best way!

You can’t exercise your way out of a poor diet.

pasta with meat on white ceramic plate

It’s All About Protein & Carbs

During an intense workout, you’re depleting your glucose reserves quickly. In order for reserves to fill up again, you must give them glucose. Glucose is your body’s sugar and main source of energy, which is stored in muscles, the liver, and fat cells. Once your muscles are out of glucose they become fatigued and weak. Therefore right after your workout, you want to get glucose in pretty fast.

Right after your workout is the best time to consume simple carbs. Quick sugar from white rice that will digest much faster than brown is ideal post-workout.

Muscles also need protein to build. Consuming enough protein will help repair and rebuild muscle cells for optimal growth. Protein repairs and rebuilds muscle.

Right after a workout is when you want to have larger portions of protein and carbs. During other meal times, you’ll want to switch your portion sizes to more veggies and fewer carbs on your plate, although this depends on the time of day that you’re working out. Of course, these are just my guidelines as portion sizes and diet choices are highly individualized.

How Much Protein & Carbs Do You Need?

  • 0.14-0.23g of protein per pound of body weight, generally about 20-40g of protein post-workout
  • Examples: grilled chicken, salmon, tuna, protein shake, eggs, greek yogurt
  • Keep in mind, that more protein doesn’t mean better recovery. Although everyone is different, the majority can only absorb around 30g of protein per meal, therefore consuming more than this just goes to waste.

Since carbs (glucose) are the primary source of energy, you need to refuel them to replace energy reserves. Fast absorbing carbs like simple carbs are preferred post-workout.

  • 0.5-0.7g carbs per pound of body weight within 30 mins after your workout
  • Examples: white rice, whole grain toast, oats, quinoa, fruit, rice cakes, whole grain pasta, and potatoes

If you’re serious about your fitness/weight loss goals counting macronutrients is a great way to measure how much protein, fat, and carbs you need each day. Not sure what macros are? Read All About Macros Here and to calculate yours try this easy tool to Count Macros.

Do I Need Supplements?

Supplements are a fast and easy way to reach your protein and carb goals. You can also add in other supplements like creatine and glutamine for optimal recovery. However, supplements are not heavily regulated or tested for safety. Some ingredients aren’t fully disclosed and you may be consuming some harmful elements. Therefore, if you’re going to use supplements be sure you’re getting them from a reputable source using natural ingredients.

That being said, it’s better to get protein and carbs from a food source rather than from supplements, but that’s not always as convenient. Recently I have been using the Naked Nutrition Line. I love the Naked Nutrition products as they use no artificial sweeteners, fillers, or other additives.

“The FDA does NOT have the authority to approve dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness, or to approve their labeling, before the supplements are sold to the public” (FDA, 2022).

Rest & Recovery

During rest is when your body actually recovers and rebuilds muscle fibers. Having the proper post-workout meal will reduce muscle breakdown, increase muscle growth, and promotes faster recovery.

Now that you know to inhale protein and carbs post-workout, let’s review some of the things you want to avoid after your workout.

  1. Avoid skipping meals! I used to be so guilty of this! If I knew I was going out to dinner I would delay my post-workout meal. I wish I knew then what I know now! Delaying or skipping meals leads to more muscle wasting. If you just finished an intense leg day, your muscles need a certain amount of protein to adequately repair and grow. Skipping or not getting enough protein causes your body to search for it elsewhere, like your other muscle groups. This will delay your fitness progress. The same is true for carbs.
  2. Stop Avoiding Carbs! Be sure that you’re getting enough and the right type of carbs. Post workout you want a fast absorbing carbohydrate to replenish your energy reserves fast. Simple carbs like white rice is perfect for this. Other times of the day you want to focus on complex carbs, like brown rice, since these are slower digesting and will provide sustained energy.
  3. Avoid alcohol on intense lifting days, at least do the best you can. Alcohol not only stops you from burning fat, but it also stops your muscles from growing.
  4. Don’t over train. Especially if you’re just starting out in a new workout program it’s important to listen to your body and go at your own pace. You will get better over time, not overnight. Overtraining causes physical trauma to the body, reduces immune response, decreases muscle growth and even makes you more prone to inuries. Slow and steady wins the race.

Nutritious food and exercise are amazing for your health, but don’t neglect other areas of you life that can also have a big impact on your progess. This includes sleep, stress, mental health, hydration status and more.

Examples of great post-workout meals/snacks:

  1. Protein shakes with carbs, like banana and oats
  2. Grilled chicken, potatoes, veggies
  3. Salmon, white rice, veggies
  4. Rice cakes and almond butter
  5. Eggs (cooked or hard-boiled) and avocado toast
  6. Tuna or chicken salad sandwich on whole grain bread
  7. Fruit & cottage cheese
  8. Hummus wrap with turkey, avocado, and veggies
  9. Whole grain pasta, lemon/olive oil/herb sauce, grilled chicken or shrimp
  10. Oatmeal, chia seeds, almond butter, sliced almonds, and fresh fruit, can add 1/2 scoop of protein powder

Disclaimer: The information in this article is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat any health conditions without consulting your healthcare provider. Information used is based on experience and opinion, not 100% evidence. Always consult with a health care practitioner before relying on any information in this article or on this website. Some links in this article may contain affiliate links.