The post workout meal (the meal you eat after a workout) is probably the most important meal of the day for anyone who cares about nutrition or wants to build muscle, lose fat or improve their body.
However, it’s also the meal that confuses people the most.
There are just so many different recommendations for what to eat during this meal, how much of it you truly need, and what foods are best to get it all from that it tends to drive people crazy.
Not to mention, there’s also the many shakes and supplements available, the trouble fitting it in with the rest of your diet, and just not even knowing if you should eat anything at all after you’ve worked out.
Well, the truth is that once you understand what your body needs (and doesn’t need) after your workout, how much is needed, and what the best sources are to get this nutrition from, the post workout meal will probably become the simplest meal of your day.
So, let’s clear up all of your confusion once and for all…
What You Should & Should NOT Eat After a Workout
Simply put, aside from water (which you should already know you need), your post workout meal needs to contain 2 things, and it needs to not contain 1.
You should be eating protein and carbs. You should NOT be eating fat.
More on the protein and carbs you need in a minute. First, let’s start with a quick explanation of why you shouldn’t eat fat after a workout.
Many times throughout this website I explain why fat is NOT a bad thing (when it’s the “good” fat) and why it is an important part of everyone’s diet. However, there just happens to be a certain time when fat (good or bad) wouldn’t be ideal to eat. This of course is in the post workout meal.
Why? Well, fat slows down digestion. In this case, it would be slowing down the digestion of protein and carbs. As you’re about to find out, this is the exact opposite of what you want to happen.
How Long After My Workout Should I Eat My Post Workout Meal?
Uh, pretty much as soon as you can.
I don’t mean put-down-the-dumbbells-and-start-eating. It doesn’t need to be quite that soon. However, there is this “window of time” that exists after your workout during which it would be the most beneficial for your body to receive its post workout nutrition.
Typically you’d want to try to get this meal into your body within 1 hour. If possible, within 30 minutes would be even better. I personally have my post workout meal about 5-10 minutes after my workout.
Seems impossible right? I mean, how can I do it so fast if I’m at the gym? I’ll explain that a bit later.
First let’s find out what type of protein and carbs you should be eating during this meal, and how much of each is best…
Post Workout Protein
Now that you know that time is of the essence when it comes to your post workout meal, this part is going to make a whole lot of sense.
See, eating this meal soon after a workout is important, but just because you are putting the food into your body quickly doesn’t actually mean the food is being digested and absorbed by your body equally as quick.
So, while chicken, meat, fish, and eggs are all fine sources of protein that I personally eat daily, they aren’t the ideal type of protein for the meal after your workout.
These foods are solid foods, and the protein in solid foods digest pretty slowly. You may have eaten a high protein food in your post workout meal, but by the time the protein is digested and finally ready to be used by your body, a whole lot of time would have passed. So…
What Protein Source Is Best?
This is why the ideal source of protein to eat after your workout is whey protein powder. Just mix it with some type of liquid (most often water) and you got yourself a drinkable source of protein.
A whey protein shake will be digested by your body much quicker than a solid food for two reasons:
- Liquid meals digest faster than solid food meals.
- Whey protein is the fastest digesting form of protein there is.
This is what makes whey protein pretty much the official choice of most people as their post workout meal protein source.
How Much Protein Should I Eat After A Workout?
As for how much, try to consume between 0.15-0.25 grams of protein per pound of your body weight (so a 175lb person would shoot for between 26-43 grams at this time). People who are VERY overweight should use their target body weight instead of their current body weight when doing this calculation.
Post Workout Carbs
After protein, the next equally important part of your post workout meal is carbs. I know carbs are the nutrient people are most afraid of these days, but honestly, they’re really not scary (or “bad”) at all.
In fact, they are an extremely essential part of your after-workout nutrition and play a key role in your post workout recovery.
Why? Well, carbs will be used by your body to restore muscle glycogen that was depleted while you worked out. If your post workout meal doesn’t contain carbs, your body may actually instead break down muscle tissue for this same purpose (which would suck). Carbs also create an insulin spike which helps to move nutrients into your muscle tissue quicker.
So, now that you know your body requires carbs after a workout, you’re probably wondering what foods they should come from.
Well, you know how there are supposed “good carbs” and “bad carbs?” As it turns out, this is actually the only time when “good carbs” and “bad carbs” switch roles.
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Meaning, typical good carbs (oatmeal, brown rice, etc.) contain fiber and other nutrients that slow down its digestion. This is exactly what makes them “good” any other time of the day.
But by now you know the post workout meal is all about speed. And when it comes to speed, simple/high glycemic carbs digest faster than complex/lower glycemic carbs. Which means foods like white potatoes or white rice or a cereal like corn flakes are all good choices for a carb source after a workout.
However, just like protein, solid foods in general may not really be the absolute BEST choice at this time. Don’t get me wrong, they’ll still provide the same nutrition and get the job done. There just might be a better way.
And that’s where a little something called dextrose comes in. Dextrose is not a supplement… it’s actually just a type of sugar often used in sports drinks.
I know, I’m basically saying you should eat sugar. While that would be a terrible idea any other time of the day, your post workout meal is the one exception because your body is in a state where it is perfectly primed to handle these types of foods.
For this reason, dextrose has also become almost an official choice for a post workout carb source.
How Many Carbs Should I Eat After A Workout?
Most people should look to consume somewhere between 0.25-0.4 grams of carbs per pound of their body weight from dextrose (a 175lb person would shoot for between 40-70 grams). And once again, people who are VERY overweight should use their target body weight instead of their current body weight when doing this calculation.