Post-Workout Nutrition: What Should I Eat After Exercise?

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Your energy levels are usually depleted after intense physical activity. For energy levels to be replenished afterward, the body will require energy compensation from nutrients. Let’s explore the mechanisms behind energy replenishment and tips for the right post-workout nutrition!

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In this article:

  1. The Mechanism of Muscle Repair and Energy Replenishment
  2. What to Eat After Working Out? 
  3. Easy Post-workout Meals
  4. Time Your Snacks Right
  5. Don’Ts for Your Post-Workout Nutrition


Post-workout Nutrition Explanations and Sample Snacks:

The Mechanism of Muscle Repair and Energy Replenishment

Ever feel achy and sore after working out? That’s because working out tears up our muscles at the microlevel. 

After that exhaustion, the body needs to repair, rebuild the damaged muscles, and replenish glycogen stores. Our ultimate dream of a leaner, fitter, and more muscular body won’t come true if the energy levels replenishing hasn’t been satisfied in the first place.

Definition: Glycogen is a molecule made from glucose in foods. When your body needs energy, it draws on its glycogen stores (in the liver and muscles), then quickly mobilizes glycogen to fuel our physical activity.

Protein turnover refers collectively to protein breakdown (the breakdown of old, damaged proteins) and protein synthesis (the construction of new ones). After resistance workouts, protein breakdown usually spirals up while protein synthesis fluctuates slightly or remains unchanged. As you can see, breaking-down is usually much more than building-up.

But why should we care about protein breakdown and synthesis? 

Because these two parameters reflect the desired metabolic environment for muscle growth, to put it simply, a positive protein balance (protein synthesis > protein breakdown) should be established during recovery — when the body can ensure that protein synthesis doesn’t lag behind protein breakdown — so that muscles can grow.

Fortunately, we can control this phenomenon by stimulating protein synthesis and suppressing protein breakdown with the right post-workout nutrition.


What to Eat After Working Out? 

quinoa-bowl-berries-nuts-healthy-meal-after-exercise-ss | Post-Workout Nutrition: What Should I Eat After Exercise? | What to Eat After Working Out?

You probably see the recurring “protein” so far. Of course, protein is pivotal in post-workout nutrition. However, it’s not the only concern! When you exercise, stored carbohydrates also become substantially depleted. Good post-workout nutrition should be the right combination of healthy protein and carbohydrates.



Consuming protein after exercise helps aid protein synthesis and prevents lean mass loss, contributing to a muscular and toned appearance. Some foods that contain healthy protein:

  • Chicken, Eggs
  • Salmon, Tuna
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Protein Bar
  • Animal/Plant-based Protein Powder
  • Whole Grains



Post-workout meals should include plenty of carbohydrates, as they quickly replenish glycogen levels: 

  • Chocolate Milk
  • Dark, Leafy Green Vegetables
  • Fruits (pineapple, berries, banana, kiwi)
  • Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes
  • Rice, Pasta
  • Quinoa, Oatmeal


Healthy Fat

Fat can also be beneficial to your post-workout nutrition as long as you consume “healthy” fat. Some foods with healthy fat are avocado, nuts, nut butter, or trail mix (dried fruits and nuts).

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Easy Post-workout Meals

A few sample meals for your post-workout nutrition:

  • Cottage cheese and fruits.
  • Egg omelet on avocado-spread toast.
  • Grilled chicken with roasted vegetables.
  • Tuna salad sandwich on whole-grain bread.
  • Whole grain toast and almond butter.
  • Greek yogurt mixed with berries and granola.
  • Oatmeal, whey protein, banana, and almonds.
  • Quinoa bowl with berries and pecans.
  • Rice crackers topped with peanut butter.
  • Salmon with sweet potato.
  • Protein shake and banana.


Time Your Snacks Right

It’s best to get your snacks within 2 hours after working out. During this post-workout period, there is a “window of opportunity,” marking the best time to fuel your muscles with nutrients that stimulate muscle repair, growth, and strength. This window stays open within 48 hours after exercise. 

As long as you feed your body correctly during this golden period, you’ll get the benefits. Delay by only a couple of hours — you lose the chance to replenish muscle glycogen levels and promote protein synthesis.


Don’Ts for Your Post-Workout Nutrition:

Avoid Unnecessary Sugars

Lots of sports drinks, energy bars, and protein shakes aren’t real foods and just poor post-workout options. They contain hidden ingredients (mostly unnecessary sugars) that aren’t helpful in the muscles’ recovery process.


Stay Away from Spicy Food

Spicy food can irritate the digestive system, sometimes causes heartburn and diarrhea, especially when your energy depletes after a workout and the body is trying to repair itself.


A Big No for Alcohol

It might sound fun to have some celebratory drinks with friends after an exhausting afternoon at the gym. However, alcohol is a big no in your post-workout nutrition. It restrains the repair process of damaged muscle by inhibiting the production of hormones involved in the process, like testosterone. 

Alcohol is also a diuretic (a substance that increases urine production). And when you are already dehydrated after a workout, alcohol will only get things worse.

Post-workout nutrition is essential as it helps replenish glycogen and energy levels lost in resistance training activities. Make sure when you drop that last dumbbell, you should be having some oatmeal, whey protein, or almonds.


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