The best thing to eat after a workout, according to experts

You’ve exercised hard and now you’re ravenous. So what is the best food to eat and when is the best time to have your post-workout meal?

After a big sweat session, what’s the first thing you eat?

Experts say what ends up on your plate after a workout is crucial for the recovery process, building and repairing muscles and giving you more energy.

Here we delve into what you should be eating after exercise, and what the optimum time to have a post-workout meal is.

Why is post-workout nutrition important?

Eating after exercise isn’t just about satisfying your appetite because you feel ravenous after working out.

“Refuelling after a workout is crucial for several reasons, primarily focusing on recovery, muscle growth and repair, replenishment of energy stores, and ensuring the body adapts positively to the exercise performed,” exercise physiologist Veronika Larisova says.

While what you eat can be an ally in your exercise journey, helping the body to achieve results, sports dietitian Jessica Spendlove says getting your post-exercise meal wrong can hamper this process.

“This can be done by not eating post-workout or eating insufficiently,” Jessica says.

What is the best food to eat after a workout?

When it comes to post-workout nutrition, carbohydrates and protein are your friends.

“Refuelling with quality carbohydrates and proteins aids in muscle repair and replenishment of energy stores,” Jessica says.

Ideally, you should be aiming for around 20-40 grams of protein, she says, adding that the amount of carbohydrates you should consume can vary and is dependent on how long your session was, the type of workout you did and your fitness goals.

“Protein intake post-workout is essential as it provides the amino acids necessary for muscle repair and growth,” Veronika says.

“Without adequate protein, the body cannot effectively repair the damaged muscles, leading to prolonged recovery times and reduced muscle growth.

“Consuming carbohydrates after working out helps replenish the body’s glycogen stores, ensuring that the body has enough energy for future workouts and activities.”

Post-workout nutrition meal ideas

What’s the ideal window to eat after a workout?

Once you’ve finished your exercise session, make it a priority to grab something to eat, ideally within an hour, Jessica says.

If you’re training twice a day, then the window shortens to 30 minutes post-workout.

This allows you to make the most of your recovery and repair phase.

“The other important point to note is while your ‘acute’ recovery is important (what you eat immediately after your workout), your body can be in a state of recovery for 24 to 48 hours after,” Jessica says.

So, for people who work out most days, that means each meal (and each snack) is an opportunity to improve your recovery and support your goals, she explains.

Interestingly, a study theorised that the optimum time for eating after a workout, otherwise known as the anabolic window, can be influenced by other factors, including when you ate your last meal, your age and your experience in training, but further research is needed.

In the meantime, make the most of your workout and fill up with the right fuel afterwards.

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Written by Tania Gomez.