Recovery Fuel: What to Eat Post Workout

You just had a great workout and now need a healthy meal to get the proper nutrients to fuel your body. Let's discuss post workout nutrition to optimize your recovery.

You care about your body, and your workouts show it. If you shower your body with the love and attention of a good sweat session, you definitely don’t want to negate it by eating the wrong foods afterwards, or not eating at all.

Studies show that the right foods eaten post-workout can enhance the workout that you complete, while the wrong recovery program could take away from it. So what are the best recovery foods? Here is a thorough guide that will help you make the right choices when it comes to refueling.

Why Eating The Right Recovery Fuel Is Important

Why is eating the right kind of recovery fuel important? When you exercise, you are training your body to work in new ways, whether that is your heart, lungs, bones, ligaments, or muscles in the body. The body is responding to your training by actually reshaping and restructuring these components.

As your body becomes transformed through exercise, your cells break down, change and grow. All of this activity requires fuel — but not just any fuel. Your body can repair and rebuild best with the right foods for fuel. The kind of fuel your body needs will depend on the type of workout you do.

Support Your Body Based On What Kind Of Workout You Completed

We can divide workouts into two groups: cardio (like hiking, biking, or running) and strength training (like weightlifting). The nutrients that your body needs to recover from each of these types of workout is different.

Understanding Post-Cardio Workout Nutrition

After a cardio workout, your body will need carbs, proteins, liquids and electrolytes. The carbs and protiens should be eaten in a ratio of  3:1 or 4:1. This might seem like a lot of carbs to you, so let’s look at the reasoning behind this refueling plan.

The biggest need that your body has after a workout is refueling glycogen stores. Glycogen comes primarily from carbohydrates.  Cardio workouts use up glycogen stores in your body.

Your body needs glycogen, which is just a form of readily available fuel,  to fire off movements.. If glycogen stores are depleted and not replenished, the body has to look for fuel elsewhere, including your muscles, leading to a loss of muscle mass. Because of this it is important to eat carbs which will help your body restore its optiamal glycogen levels.

Another important requirement after cardio training is muscle repair.  This can be accomplished by eating the right amount of protein for your particular body weight. A general rule of thumb is to aim for at least 10 -35 grams of protein.

Timing Your Post-Cardio Nutrition

Research shows that it is best to replenish those glycogen stores (so that your body doesn’t start breaking apart your muscles for fuel) as soon as possible, and at least within 60 minutes after your cardio workout. This period is when the body can best turn the fuel that you eat into glycogen for later use.

Depending on the time of day that you work out, you might want to either replenish your glycogen stores by eating a 100-300 calorie snack, or (if it is meal time) digging into a larger dish.

Post-Cardio Snacks

Here are some perfect refueling snack options:

  • Banana or apple with almond butter
  • Packaged recovery shake with a high carb to protein ratio
  • Whole wheat crackers with peanut butter or cheese on top
  • Whole grain breakfast cereal with Greek yogurt mixed in

Post-Cardio Meals

If you can have a meal within an hour of working out, aim for healthy meals that contain carbohydrates (to replenish your glycogen stores) and protein (to rebuild muscles) in a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio.

Ultimately, your meal choices will depend on your food preferences, and what is important is that you are getting a healthy amount of clean (not overly processed) carbs and protein into the body within 30 to 60 minutes.

Here are some of the best meals for after a cardio workout:

  • Oatmeal with strawberry slices and almond milk
  • Turkey on a whole wheat wrap with spinach
  • Penne pasta tossed with chicken, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli
  • Lentil and root vegetable soup with pita chips

Understanding Post Strength Training Nutrition

Strength training workouts should be refueled differently than cardio training. Recovery fuel should include carbs, proteins, liquids and electrolytes, but the carb to protein ratio is 2:1. In other words, you need less carbs per protein unit.

Another big contrast is that weight training leads to a revved up metabolism for up to 36 hours after the session, so recovery fuel needs to be taken in consistently, every several waking hours post workout. Weight training also builds bone mass, so the fuels need to provide the body with substances that can be used to build bone.

Post Strength Training Snacks

Many experts recommend at least 10 to 35 grams of protein. Here are ideal post strength training snacks. Serving size will depend on your body weight, training intesity, and health goals. Remember to aim for a carb to protein ratio of 2:1. 

Scrambled eggs with fresh tomato or salsa

  • Tuna stuffed avocado
  • Protein Shake
  • Power Bar
  • Beef Jerky
  • Peanut butter on crackers

Post Strength Training Meals

For larger meals, your calorie intake will become a larger percent of your daily intake. Instead of a 100 to 300 calorie snack, these meal options could be 500 – 1,000 calories, depending on the portion sizes.

Here are some healthy meal options:

  • Spinach salad topped with steak or chicken, with ½ cup of quinoa mixed in
  • Meal replacement protein shake with 2:1 carb to protein ratio
  • Chicken and curry stuffed sweet potatoes
  • Chili made with lean ground beef or ground turkey

Treat your body well after a workout by feeding it the food that it needs. Cardio and strength training require different nutritional approaches. If you don’t refuel properly, you might miss out on those benefits! Eat the right snack or meal after a workout, and you will be giving the body the tools that it needs to rebuild and restructure properly.

TFT Team

Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. When you see “TFT Team” this is because the content was not written by a single author, but rather a team effort.

You just had a great workout and now need a healthy meal to get the proper nutrients to fuel your body. Let's discuss post workout nutrition to optimize your recovery.