In terms of hunger, anything that will tame your rumbling belly is fair game, but if weight loss or muscle growth is your goal, making a post-workout meal requires some thought. If you pick the right foods and combination of nutrients, you’re bound to see results. But with so many variables at play — carbs, fats and proteins — it can be hard to piece together the ideal plate.
To ensure you don’t cancel out the better body benefits of your workout, follow our guide below. Doing so will help you create tasty post-workout meals that will give you the body you want — no matter what time of day you hit the gym.
PICK A PROTEIN
The body uses protein to repair and rebuild the muscles that were broken down as a result of your workout. That’s why it plays such a vital role in muscle building and weight loss. The more muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn at rest.
Our Go-Tos: We’re fans of grilled and roasted poultry, eggs, milk, yogurt, fish (these are our six favorites), lean cuts of pork and grass-fed beef. If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, be sure to consume these plant sources of complete protein, which contain all nine essential amino acids the body cannot produce on its own. Soybeans, chia seeds and hummus made with tahini all fit the bill.
How Much: After you’ve picked your protein, measure out a serving that supplies about 20 grams of the muscle-building nutrient. (That’s what you’d find in three eggs or a 3-ounce serving of wild salmon or chicken.) Compared to consuming both larger and smaller amounts of protein, 20 grams most effectively fuels muscle repair after a workout, research shows. Noshing on more won’t hurt the cause — but it won’t help, either.
BOOST THE CARB COUNT
To give you the energy you need to get through your spin class or weight room session, the body uses up stored carbohydrates called glycogen. It’s important to replenish these depleted stores to ensure you have enough gas left in the tank to fuel your daily activities and upcoming workouts
Our Go-Tos: Eating fast-digesting carbs will jump-start the recovery process faster than slow-digesting complex carbs. But complex carbs tend to include more fiber, which can tame insatiable post-workout hunger. If you’ve had a lighter or shorter workout, stick with a complex carb. The fast-acting carbs aren’t necessary.
Slow-digesting carb we often reach for include: whole-grain and Ezekiel bread, black beans, quinoa and sweet potatoes. Fruit, corn tortillas, white rice and white potatoes are all easy-to-find sources of fast-acting carbs.
How Much: After a workout, your body needs a meal with a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein. If your workout went longer than an hour and a half, aim for the latter. If weight loss is your goal, go for the former. Since you’re aiming for 20 grams of protein, 20 to 40 grams of carbs will provide the proper nutrient ratio. But before loading your plate with pasta to hit that number, you’ll want to check your fat and protein sources for their carb counts and be sure to factor those numbers into your overall meal equation.
ADD A HEALTHY FAT
There’s so much of a focus on consuming carbs and protein after a workout that many people overlook the importance of healthy fats. Consuming a source of the nutrient after the gym can enhance muscle growth, speed recovery time and reduce the risk of injury by protecting joints from wear, soreness and inflammation.
How Much: A 1:1:1 or 2:1:1 ratio of carbs to protein to fat is ideal, so aim for 20 grams of healthy fat on your plate. But again, it doesn’t all need to come from an additional source. Chances are good your protein and carb sources will have a bit of fat. Be sure to consider that before overloading your meal with more.
Our Go-Tos: There are lots of tasty ways to add a healthy source of fat to your meal. We’re partial to all-natural nut butter and coconut, olive and flaxseed oils. Avocado and lightly salted almonds are also healthy dish additions and contain many of the electrolytes lost through sweat during exercise.
FILL YOUR GLASS
To stay cool during workouts, the body releases water in the form of sweat. It’s important to replenish the lost water to ensure you don’t become dehydrated.
How Much: Extreme Weight Loss contestants drink 32 ounces of fluid for every hour of exercise they complete, says trainer Chris Powell. We suggest following suit. If you had a particularly long or sweaty workout, ensure you’re hydrated enough by monitoring the color of your urine. If you’ve had enough to drink, it will be pale.
Our Go-Tos: You may feel trendy with a bottle of vitamin-enhanced beverage (read: sugar water) in your hand, but we’re partial to plain ol’ H20. If that gets too dull for you, turn to detox water filled with hydrating fruits like oranges, watermelon and cantaloupe. Gulping down a sugary drink is counterproductive to weight loss.
TWO PERFECT FITNESS PLATES
Need some culinary inspiration? We’ve got your back. Here’re two delicious, filling meals that fit the nutritional bill outlined above. The best part: They’re both a cinch to cook up!
SOUTH-WESTERN QUINOA & CHICKEN BOWL
374 calories, 26.7 g protein, 23 g carbs, 19.5 g fat
½ cup chopped grilled chicken breast
½ cup cooked quinoa
¼ avocado, sliced
1 Tbsp Stonewall Kitchen All Natural Cilantro Lime Dressing
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and add any additional chopped veggies you crave. Red peppers and onions both pair well with this recipe and don’t have much of an effect on the overall ratio of nutrients.
Eat This! Tip
Prepare the chicken and quinoa over the weekend so you can mix up your bowl quickly after the gym. Don’t forget to pair your meal with a big glass of water!
SPINACH OMELET WITH TOAST & FRUIT
464 calories, 25 g protein, 42 g carbs, 21 g fat
3 whole eggs
1 cup fresh spinach
1 slice Ezekiel bread, toasted
1 medium apple
Coat a skillet with cooking spray and saute spinach until soft.
Beat eggs in a small bowl until combined and season the mixture with black pepper.
Add eggs to skillet and allow to cook through.
Serve with apple and toast.