One of the most frequently asked questions I get when it comes to nutrition and endurance training is what to eat after a training session. Between all the mixed information out there it can be confusing to figure out whether you should be eating a snack immediately after a workout, or if you should hold out until your next meal where you can fuel up on something a little more substantial.

Read on to learn about exactly how to nourish your body best after a training session as well as when exactly you should be eating to promote post-workout recovery.

What Should You Eat After a Workout?

This is the question that so many endurance athletes ask, and something I want to break down. What you eat after a workout matters, and it matters in a big way. What you eat after working out is going to play a role in your body’s ability to replenish glycogen stores as well as support energy levels and muscle recovery. For this reason, you are going to want to focus on getting enough complex carbohydrates, and protein in your post-workout meal. Adding some healthy fat into the mix is also helpful to support energy levels and boost the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

Let’s take a look at each macronutrient and break down which foods are best post-training.

Carbs: Carbs are essential both pre and post training to help support energy levels. Carbs are going to be what fuels your body during training and what gives you that immediate source of energy. However, it’s important to keep in mind that not all carbs are created equal, so you don’t want to go fueling up on super sugary foods. Instead, you will want to refuel on complex carbs post-workout, read on for specific food recommendations.

Studies have found that combining carbohydrates with protein within 1-3 hours post-workout supports better muscle protein synthesis. So, it is best to pair a complex carb with a high-quality protein source after your training session for optimal recovery.

Protein: As we just talked about, pairing protein with complex carbs after training can improve muscle recovery, so you will definitely want to add some high-quality protein into your post-workout meal. Getting enough protein after a workout is also important to help with muscle growth. Studies have shown that getting just 20 grams of protein after training is enough to promote muscle protein synthesis. You can easily get this in a post-workout meal, or a protein shake made with a high-quality collagen or grass-fed whey protein powder.  

Fat: Last but not least is fat. Fat often receives a bad reputation for inhibiting the absorption of nutrients in your post-workout meal, but this really isn’t the case. Adding fat to your meal may slow down the absorption of the meal, but it will not take away from all of the benefits of those nutrient dense foods you are consuming. So, adding some healthy fat to your meal after your workout can be beneficial, and may help give you an energy boost while also helping the body absorb any fat-soluble vitamins present in your post-workout meal.

When Should You Eat After a Workout?

In addition to what you should be eating after working out, another big question is when. Should you eat immediately, or is it ok to wait a little bit?

Timing is important because you need to replenish those glycogen stores you burned through during training. These glycogen stores are often depleted pretty quickly with endurance training, so you will want to enjoy a carbohydrate-rich meal or snack within two hours of your workout. Eating within an appropriate amount of time plays a super important role in restoring those energy reserves as well as rebuilding muscle tissue.

A meal rich in carbohydrates that is easily absorbed and digested right after intense exercise can also help support what’s called glycogen resynthesis which involves glycogen replenishment post endurance training. Studies have found that endurance athletes can achieve total muscle glycogen resynthesis within 24 hours when consuming an average of 500-700 grams of carbohydrates over that time frame. 

Since glycogen resynthesis tends to be at its peak within the first two hours after training, you can boost glycogen resynthesis by consuming 0.70g glucose/kg body weight every two hours. 

However, chances are, you are going to be hungry and want to grab something to eat much sooner than that two-hour mark, so listen to your body.

Post-Workout Food Options

To help break this all down, here is a guide for some great post-workout recovery food options. You will notice there are options for a full post-workout meal, and some will serve best as an easy to prepare post-workout snack. If you only have time to make a shake, or enjoy a grab and go snack, that’s okay, just be sure to fuel up on a balanced meal within that two-hour time frame after training.

  • Post-Workout Shake: Make a post-workout shake with almond milk (or any other nut milk of choice), a frozen banana, one cup of frozen blueberries, one scoop of collagen protein, one cup of unsweetened full-fat Greek yogurt, two teaspoons of raw honey, one tablespoon of almond butter, and a sprinkle of hemp seeds.
  • Eggs & Fruit: Three hard-boiled eggs with a side of fresh fruit and a handful of almonds.
  • Oats & Berries: One cup of rolled oats, One Tbsp. almond butter, One cup of blueberries.
  • Avocado Toast: One slice of toast with ½ avocado, a sprinkle of hemp seeds, and a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt.
  • Chicken Breast & Veggies: Grilled chicken breast with bell pepper and cubed sweet potato.
  • Hummus with Veggies & Pita Bread: ½ cup hummus with mixed veggies (bell pepper, cucumber, carrot sticks, celery stalks) and a gluten-free pita.
  • Quinoa Bowl: One cup of cooked quinoa with ½ sliced avocado, ½ tomato, and a drizzle of tahini with a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt.

The Bottom Line

Refueling your body with the right foods within the right time frame after training can make a huge difference in your body’s ability to recover. It can also significantly help with new muscle growth as it’s important to replenish the muscle tissues with enough protein to repair themselves. Nutrition after an intense training session can also be the key to support an increase in energy levels, so if you find yourself completely fatigued after a workout, you may need to amp up your post-workout meal with added carbs, protein, and healthy fat.

Try out a few or all of these post-workout food combos to see which ones work best for you, and which ones make your body feel the best. Once you find which ones work, alternate them to diversify your diet and provide your body with the nutrients it needs for optimal muscle and energy recovery after each training session.

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Shayne Gaffney

About the Author Shayne Gaffney

Shayne holds a bachelors degree in Health Science in Professional Development and Advanced Patient Care, is a licensed physical therapy assistant in Massachusetts, a USA Cycling Level 1 (expert level) certified Coach, a USA Cycling Power Based Training certified Coach, Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified Coach, a US Military Endurance Sports (USMES) affiliated Coach, and USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport certified. He is the owner and head Coach of GC Coaching, Workout Content Editor at Zwift, the creator of P2 Coached Computraining, and the creator of Zwift’s “Build Me Up” Flexible Training Plan. He has been published in Bicycling Magazine, the TrainingPeaks blog, and Zwift Insider. He can be contacted directly via info@gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

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