What To Eat After an Intense Workout

It’s no secret that proper nutrition can help you to enhance your athletic performance in the gym and on the field. Yet, post-workout nutrition is an all too often overlooked aspect of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

When you expend energy doing a particularly intense workout, your body and muscles need specific nutrients to help replenish what’s been lost and to recover. Continue reading to learn more about what you should eat after an intense workout!

Guide to Post-Workout Nutrition

Macronutrients and How Much Do You Need

According to the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH), Macronutrients are nutrients that the body uses in large amounts. These include proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. The NIH’s U.S. Library of Medicine gives the following definitions:


Sugars, starches, and fiber make up the three types of carbohydrates that our bodies use to create energy. Your body breaks down these sugars and starches and turns them into glucose that can be stored or used. Fiber, on the other hand, does not get broken down and instead helps you to feel full.

After a workout lasting more than 90 minutes, it’s recommended by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) that you consume 0.5 to 0.7 grams of carbs per pound of body weight within 30 minutes of your workout.


Fats are used by your body to keep your skin and hair healthy and to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. While some fats are essential to your diet, too many can be harmful. All fats are made of unsaturated and saturated fatty acids and are classified as such depending on their content.

Research shows that high-fat meals (45% energy from fat) consumed post-workout do not affect your body’s processes for recovery. However, meals with high-fat content can slow down the absorption of your post-workout meal, so it’s a good idea to limit fat content in your post-workout diet.


Your body uses protein from the foods you eat in every cell of your body to build and maintain muscles, bones, and skin. The human body is unable to store protein in the way that it can store fats and carbohydrates, so it’s important to get enough dietary proteins from the food that you eat.

When it comes to proteins, studies have shown that consuming between 20 and 40 grams of protein can maximize your body’s recovering ability. The ISSN recommended intake for proteins is 0.14 to 0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight within 30 minutes of your workout.

Timing Your Meals

It’s important to time your meals regularly to maintain healthy body weight. In addition to regular exercise and a healthy diet, when you eat your meals can drastically affect the way your body processes and uses various macronutrients and micronutrients.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that meal high in a combination of proteins and carbs should be consumed 1 to 4 hours pre-workout and within 60 minutes post-workout maximum. By taking your meals around workout time, you’re giving your body the time it needs to fuel working muscles pre-workout and build and repair muscles post-workout.

Additional Post-Workout Nutrients

There are several other post-workout nutrients you may want to consider as part of your dietary regimen in the future. These post-workout nutrients are:

  • If you’re constantly feeling sore after workouts, adding BCAAS and protein to your diet can be beneficial.
  • Whey Protein. Whey protein can be used in combination with strength training to promote strength and muscle size while increasing lean body mass. Additionally, whey can help to improve recovery from exercise and running speed.
  • I recommend that you rehydrate within 2 hours after you exercise and state that “post-exercise rehydration should be 150% of body mass loss during exercise.” The general rule that most athletes follow is to consume between 200-300ml of water in 15-minute intervals throughout their workout. You can calculate exactly how much water you need after every exercise by using the following equation.

[Pre-exercise wt (kg) – post-exercise wt (kg)] x 1.5 = Fluid Needs for Replacement per ACSM Guidelines

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Studies found that using omega-3 supplements “can result in optimal training gains, enhanced recovery, reduced risk of illness, and a high-level competition performance…” and “may improve performance in sports where perceptual-motor activity and decision-making are the keys to success.”
  • Creatine can be used to improve aerobic endurance performance, and the quality and benefits gained from high-intensity speed training.
  • Antioxidants like vitamin C and E and carotenoids can help prevent or delay cell damage. Research also suggests adding a combination of antioxidants to your workout dietary supplement can help to enhance physical performance, endurance, and recovery.
  • Beta-alanine can help delay anabolic metabolism (which is responsible for the lactic acid build-up causing soreness to your body). Adding a beta-alanine supplementation to your post-workout nutrition can improve exercise and tactical performance.
  • Caffeine can enhance performance, promote alertness and vigilance, and have been shown to aid in sustaining you during maximal endurance activities.
  • Iron. Maintaining a proper level of iron in your blood is critical to exercise performance and stamina.

What To Eat After an Intense Workout

When eating 30 to 60 minutes after an intense workout, your goal should be to improve your body’s ability to recover. Depending on the intensity of your workout, you should consider having a full, balanced meal, a small but hearty snack, or a nutrient-rich drink to help you replace the calories and nutrients you lost.

Eating after a workout is vital if you want to give your body the macronutrients (proteins and carbs) it needs to maximize the benefits of your workout.

Best Post-Workout Meal: Grilled Chicken with Roasted Vegetables

Delicious and filling, a full meal like grilled chicken with roasted vegetables is a solid choice after intense workouts that last longer than 60 minutes. The USDA, or United States Department of Agriculture, recommends a serving size of 3oz (about the size of a small chicken breast) and a variety of roasted vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and turnips in individual portion sizes of 297g (a little more than half a pound).

A 3oz serving of chicken contains 7 grams of fat, 0 grams of carbohydrates, and 25 grams of protein. And a 297g serving of mixed roasted root vegetables contains 15 grams of fat, 3 milligrams of cholesterol, and 6 grams of protein.

Best Post-Workout Drink: Protein Shake

If you’re on the go, a great alternative to a large meal are protein shakes. They can be a convenient way to boost your system after a workout. Protein shakes can be homemade or store-bought, and as such, you should check the nutrition facts on the label before purchasing.

Most protein shakes, however, contain between 20 and 50 grams of protein, between 5 and 10 grams of fat, and between 20 and 50 grams of carbohydrates.

Best Post-Workout Snack: High-Protein Granola Bar

Another convenient way to get your post-workout nutrition after a workout is though homemade, or store-bought, granola bars. Like protein shakes, the nutrition facts on granola bars vary from brand to brand, so it’s important to read the label before purchasing.

Homemade recipes for granola bars also vary, but generally, most recipes contain between 5 and 20 grams of protein, between 15 and 40 grams of carbs, and between 5 and 30 grams of fat.

The Bottomline…

Proper nutrition has to work hand in hand with your workouts for your body to reap all of the benefits of your efforts. When you eat and what you eat matter to your body before, during, and after your workout. So the next time you’re planning your workout, be sure to also plan your post-workout meal, drink, or snack.

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