Exactly What to Eat After a Workout for Every Goal
Everyone has different reasons for working out: getting ready for bikini season, helping their mental health, or just having more energy throughout the day. And no matter what your fitness goals are, there's no denying that regular exercise is essential for overall health and well-being. After all, activity levels have been associated with stronger heart health and living longer.
But if you're hitting the gym for a specific purpose—say, to shed weight or bulk up—how you refuel your body afterward can be confusing. Are you supposed to load up on protein or carbs? How much is too much to eat? Will I totally undo all the progress I made in the gym?
That's why we tapped fitness and nutrition pro Jim White, RD, ACSM, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios to give us the scoop on what we should be scooping into our mouths post-workout. While he recommends the average person should eat about 20-30 grams of protein per meal and 10-15 grams of protein per snack if you're working out, White explains the specifics of what you should eat and how they vary depending on your goals. If you're looking for something else to munch on throughout the day and still stick to your goals, check out our list of The 50 Best Snacks for Weight Loss.
To Lose Weight
"When weight loss is a goal, you should be eating several small meals and snacks per day to keep metabolism up and to prevent severe hunger that may lead to overeating," White explains. "Making post-workout fuel fit into your overall plan and not having it become an additional source of calories is helpful."
What to eat:
"If you're eating dinner soon after your workout, build a meal that includes a few ounces (or one-quarter of your plate) of lean protein, a quarter of your plate with whole grains or starchy vegetables and the other half with non-starchy vegetables. If dinner is going to be a few hours after a workout, replenish with a small, nutrient-dense snack containing carbohydrates and protein like a Greek yogurt cup and berries or ½ scoop protein powder mixed with unsweetened almond milk and a banana," he says.
To Build Muscle
"We tend to think that the more muscle you're trying to build, the more protein you need right? Not exactly. A post workout snack with for someone trying to build muscle should still contain the 3:1 protein ratio of carbohydrates to protein to restore glycogen lost in the muscle and rebuild muscle tissue, you just may not be eating enough calories in general," White advises.
What to eat:
"Try increasing overall calories by making your post-workout snack more of a mini meal. Think: a 100-calorie whole wheat English muffin or bagel thin with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, an apple and 8 ounces of low-fat milk. Or, spread hummus on a whole wheat wrap, add a few slices of turkey, some lettuce, and tomato and have that with a Greek yogurt cup topped with a few berries," he says.
To Gain Endurance
"Restoring lost glycogen in your muscles is key, which comes from eating carbohydrates found naturally foods like bread and pasta, beans, milk, yogurt, fruit, and honey," White explains.
What to eat:
"Ten ounces of tart cherry juice after an intense workout can fight oxidative stress and help muscles to recover more quickly, with less soreness so that you will be ready for your next training session. Pair the juice with a part-skim cheese stick or a handful of almonds for protein."
To Boost Energy
"Whole grains and high-fiber fruits are great carbohydrates to pair with protein for your post-workout snack because the fiber takes longer to digest and will keep you feeling energized from your main fuel source of carbohydrates longer," White says.
What to eat:
"Try pairing half of a whole wheat turkey sandwich with a cup of blackberries, raspberries or a medium-sized pear," he advises. "Matcha powder can be added to a post-workout smoothie with skim milk (add vanilla protein powder if you are using plant-based milk to get some protein) and a frozen banana for post-workout fuel, the energizing effects of green tea and some added antioxidant benefits!"
To Maintain Weight
"To maintain weight, you basically need to be consuming as many calories, with balanced meals full of nutrient-dense foods, as you're burning throughout the day, including workouts," he says.
What to eat:
"On days you workout harder, make your post-workout snacks a little bigger with two hard-boiled eggs, ⅓ cup hummus with a handful of carrots and a cup of fruit. On lighter days, a simple 8-ounce glass of low-fat chocolate milk is a great post workout treat that hydrates, refuels, and tastes delicious, too!"
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