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What Should You Eat After A Workout?

Published January 27, 2019 (Revised: December 21, 2019) Read Time: 11 minutes
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

Fact-Checked By: Ana Reisdorf MS, RD

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<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context":"http://schema.org", "@type":"BlogPosting", "author": { "@type": "Person", "name": "Ben Kissam, BS" }, "publisher": { "@type": "Organization", "name": "Warrior Made", "logo": { "@type": "ImageObject", "url": "https://www.warriormade.com", "image": "https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2019/12/what-should-eat-after-workout-thumbnail-0062.jpg" } }, "headline":"What Should You Eat After A Workout?", "datePublished":"2018-01-27", "dateModified": "2019-12-21", "description":"What's the best thing to eat after exercise? Here's what to eat after a workout, and the science behind why post-workout nutrition matters.", "image": "https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2019/12/what-should-eat-after-workout-thumbnail-0062.jpg" } </script> <script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context": "https://schema.org", "@type": "FAQPage", "mainEntity": [{ "@type": "Question", "name": "Why should you eat after a workout?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "The short answer: It improves muscle recovery, which leads to better results from your workouts." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "How long after a workout should you eat?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "The short answer: The science varies, but likely somewhere between 45 minutes and 2 hours." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "What Should You Eat After A Workout?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "The short answer: Whole foods in the form of protein and carbs. Though if you're on a low-carb plan, your approach may be different." } }] } </script> <article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">Why Should You Eat After A Workout?</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">How Long After A Workout Should You Eat?</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">What Should You Eat After A Workout?</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">Post Workout Nutrition: What To Avoid</a></li> <li><a href="#section5">What Should You Eat After A Workout To Lose Weight?</a></li> <li><a href="#section6">Eating After Exercise: Wrap Up</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p>Many studies have been done on the topic of post-workout nutrition. </p> <p>Even still, you hear people ask the same questions all the time: <i>Is eating after a workout important?</i> And, <i>what should I eat after exercise?</i></p> <p>While many people online seem to have an "answer", their advice isn't always scientifically sound. </p> <p>That's why we dove into the research on post-workout nutrition, and broke it all down below in a way that's easy to understand.</p> <p>Here's what to eat after a workout, along with what the science says about the "why" and "when" of eating after exercise.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section1"> <h2>Why should you eat after a workout?</h2> <p><i>The short answer</i>: It improves muscle recovery, which leads to better results from your workouts.</p> <p>Eating after workouts has been proven to positively impact muscle hypertrophy (growth), muscle strength, and body composition.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5852800/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">1</a>,<a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5214805/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">2</a></sup></p> <p>After exercise, a process called protein synthesis occurs. This means your body builds new proteins and repairs damaged muscle tissue. The cumulative effect of protein synthesis over time (read: doing regular <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/" rel="noreferrer">workouts</a>) leads to increased size and density in your muscles.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4523889/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">3</a>,<a target="_blank" href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/protein-synthesis" rel="nofollow noreferrer">4</a></sup></p> <p>Basically, your body breaks down the nutrients in food (we'll look at which nutrients later) after a workout and uses it to make you stronger, fitter, and <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/foolproof-guide-to-building-lean-muscle/" rel="noreferrer">more muscular</a>.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5596471/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">5</a></sup></p> <p>Think of eating after working out as giving your body the "raw materials" it needs to rebuild and recover.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/time-after-workout-eating-0062.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/time-after-workout-eating-0062.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/time-after-workout-eating-0062.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/time-after-workout-eating-LR-0062.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="time after workout eating"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section2"> <h2>How long after a workout should you eat?</h2> <p><i>The short answer</i>: The science varies, but likely somewhere between 45 minutes and 2 hours (see studies below).</p> <p>Certain studies have proposed there is a post-workout or anabolic* "window". That is, a specific time-period (such as 45 minutes) after a workout when taking in nutrients is most effective for performance gains. This is called nutrient timing.</p> <p><i>*Anabolic means growth. When your body is in an anabolic state, it's primed to grow and rebuild muscle.</i><sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK231843/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">6</a></sup></p> <p>However, some studies have shown nutrient timing isn't as important as you might think. They argue that the most important thing is your <i>total</i> nutrient intake, especially the number of grams of protein and carbs you consume throughout the day.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30702982" rel="nofollow noreferrer">7</a></sup></p> <h3>What the science says</h3> <p>Consider:</p> <ul> <li>An excerpt from <a target="_blank" href="https://scholar.google.com/scholar_lookup?title=Nutrient+Timing:+The+Future+of+Sports+Nutrition&author=J+Ivy&author=R+Portman&publication_year=2004&" rel="nofollow noreferrer"><i>The Future of Sports Nutrients</i></a> called the first 45 minutes after a workout the "anabolic window". They suggest eating some protein and carbs within 45 minutes of exercise for optimal performance gains.</li> <li>To properly refuel after workouts, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4831776/" rel="nofollow noreferrer"><i>a 2016 study</i></a> also suggests taking in carbs and protein within 2 hours of exercise. (This study refers to endurance athletes, and states that taking in these macronutrients can boost performance for the next day's workout.)</li> <li>A study in <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17095924" rel="nofollow noreferrer"><i>Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise</i></a> called eating before <i>and</i> after workouts a "simple, but effective" strategy for getting better results from exercise.</li> </ul> <p>While the science isn't conclusive on this topic, you can use this information to inform your post workout nutrition. To sum up the major points:</p> <ul> <li>Eating after you exercise improves recovery.</li> <li>Protein and carbs are the two macronutrients that matter most after exercise (see section: "What should you not eat after a workout?" below for more on this).</li> <li>While there isn't necessarily one specific post-workout protocol to follow, post-workout nutrition is important.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23360586" rel="nofollow noreferrer">8</a></sup></li> </ul> <p>Since there isn't a perfect answer, the best solution is likely to find a post-workout routine that works for you after training, and be consistent with it.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/after-workout-eating-0062.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/after-workout-eating-0062.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/after-workout-eating-0062.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/after-workout-eating-LR-0062.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="after workout eating"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section3"> <h2>What Should You Eat After A Workout?</h2> <p><i>The short answer</i>: Whole foods in the form of protein and carbs. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23765352" rel="nofollow noreferrer">9</a>, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5794245/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">10</a></sup> Though if you're on a low-carb plan, your approach may be different.</p> <p>As studies showed in the previous section, protein and carbs are both important after training.</p> <p>Here's why:</p> <ul> <li>Protein breaks down into amino acids, which the body uses to increase muscle mass and enhance performance.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25169440" rel="nofollow noreferrer">11</a></sup></li> <li>Carbohydrates replace muscle glycogen lost during exercise, and have shown positive effects for muscle recovery after workouts when combined with protein.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4224210/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">12</a>, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4125607/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">13</a></sup></li> </ul> <p>But not all food sources for these two macronutrients are the same. Below you'll find a list of clean protein and carb sources you can use after workouts.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/protein-after-workout-0062.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/protein-after-workout-0062.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/protein-after-workout-0062.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/protein-after-workout-LR-0062.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="protein after workout"> </picture> <h3>Protein</h3> <ul> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/best-protein-powder/" rel="noreferrer">Protein powder</a> (collagen, and plant-based powders are popular options. The benefit of using powder is that it digests quickly.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5537849/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">14</a></sup></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/search/?query=chicken" rel="noreferrer">Chicken</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/salmon-kale-salad/" rel="noreferrer">Salmon</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/search/?query=pork" rel="noreferrer">Pork</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/chipotle-beef-bowls/" rel="noreferrer">Beef</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/search/?query=eggs" rel="noreferrer">Eggs</a></li> </ul> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/carbs-after-workout-0062.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/carbs-after-workout-0062.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/carbs-after-workout-0062.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/carbs-after-workout-LR-0062.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="carbs after workout"> </picture> <h3>Carbs</h3> <ul> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/keto-fruit/" rel="noreferrer">Fruit</a> (berries, melon, apples, etc.)</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/the-best-low-carb-vegetables-to-eat-on-keto/" rel="noreferrer">Veggies</a> (all kinds)</li> <li>Starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes.)</li> </ul> <p>If you're a low-carb dieter, it would make sense to save as many carbs as you can for after you workout (as opposed to during other meals or snacks). You might also eat some carbs (or take <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/exogenous-ketones/" rel="noreferrer">exogenous ketones</a>) beforehand, to enhance performance.</p> <p>And though it isn't a food per se, here's why hydration should also be a priority consideration after exercise.</p> <h3>Water</h3> <p>Drinking water is just as important as eating the right foods after a workout. Consider:</p> <ul> <li>Dehydration not only impairs cognitive processes in the brain, but may affect performance during future workouts.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4993146/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">15</a></sup></li> <li>A 2018 study in <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29098657" rel="nofollow noreferrer"><i>Sports Medicine</i></a> listed water and carbohydrate intake as the two most important things after a workout to enhance performance. </li> <li>Another 2018 study found a good hydration plan can improve power, awareness, and recovery after exercise.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5987390/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">16</a></sup></li> </ul> <p>Now, let's look at what should be avoided after exercise, and how to approach post-workout nutrition if your goal is weight loss.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section4"> <h2>Post workout nutrition: what to avoid</h2> <p>Above all, avoid processed and sugary foods after workouts. But you probably shouldn't be eating these to begin with if you want to be healthy or fit.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5133084/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">17</a></sup></p> <p>In the past, some have argued that eating lots of dietary fats after a workout is also not a good idea.</p> <p><i>Why?</i> Because fat digests slower than protein and carbs.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53550/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">18</a></sup> If an anabolic "window" <i>does</i> exist, eating fat would, at least in theory, slow the absorption of the other two macronutrients. </p> <p>However, there are no studies directly stating that eating fat hinders recovery after a workout. As low-carb diets increase in popularity, perhaps more research will be done on this topic. </p> <p>For now, stick to whole foods and avoid junk food after exercise and you should be fine.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/eating-workout-lose-weight-0062.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/eating-workout-lose-weight-0062.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/eating-workout-lose-weight-0062.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/eating-workout-lose-weight-LR-0062.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="eating workout lose weight"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section5"> <h2>What should you eat after a workout to lose weight?</h2> <p>The types of food you eat doesn't need to change: some protein, some carbs, and plenty of water.</p> <p>Protein is especially useful for weight loss. It helps preserve <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/top-7-post-workout-foods-for-lean-muscle/" rel="noreferrer">lean muscle</a> when you're losing weight, and has a natural satiating (filling) effect.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5421125/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">19</a>, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18469287" rel="nofollow noreferrer">20</a></sup></p> <p>But if weight loss is the goal, portion control (how much you eat) should also be a consideration.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25033958" rel="nofollow noreferrer">21</a></sup></p> <p>Eating too much food, no matter how high quality it is, can cause you to gain weight.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6088523/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">22</a></sup></p> <p>You don't have to count calories, but simple tools like <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/what-are-macros/" rel="noreferrer">calculating your macros</a> can help you determine how much energy you need after exercise.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section6"> <h2>Eating after exercise: wrap up</h2> <p><i>What should you eat after a workout?</i> The science shows some combination of protein to promote muscle recovery, carbs to replace glycogen, and water to replace fluids are all good for increasing performance.</p> <p>There may or may not be an anabolic "window", or specific time you should eat to maximize fitness gains, but eating somewhere between 45 minutes to 2 hours after exercise could be helpful.</p> <p>For protein, use a protein powder supplement or eat lean sources like beef, chicken, or eggs. For carbs, stick to wholesome sources like fruits and vegetables if you're on a low-carb diet. If you're not, you might include starchy vegetables or grains, too.</p> <p>Since a lot of the science on this subject isn't conclusive, the best approach to post-workout nutrition is likely to find a method that works for you, and to stick with it.</p> <p>Eat healthy foods after you exercise, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/keto-electrolytes/" rel="noreferrer">hydrate</a>, and see how your body responds. If you like your results, keep doing what you're doing.</p> </section> </article>

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