An Essential Guide on the Best Foods to Eat After a Workout

Exercise is a crucial component of a healthy lifestyle and overall wellness. But did you know that your post-workout nutrition is just as important?

Eating the right foods after exercise is not just about replenishing your energy, it’s also essential for fueling recovery, optimizing muscle repair, and preparing your body for your next workout.

In this article, we’ll look at the best foods to eat after a workout, when to consume them, and how they help the body recover and maintain optimal functioning. 

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Why is it Important to Eat After Working Out?

When you work out — whether you’re lifting weights, running, or going to a pilates class — your body is put under physical stress that depletes energy and causes muscles to break down. 

Eating the right foods after exercising is crucial for helping the body to recover and can aid in:

  • Repairing muscles and promoting growth: During exercise, muscles develop microscopic tears. Eating after a workout provides the amino acids necessary for repairing these tears, which is essential for promoting strong muscles and improving physical performance. 

  • Replenishing glycogen stores: When working out, the body uses glycogen (stored carbohydrates) as fuel. Eating after exercising helps replenish these stores, ensuring that your body has enough energy for daily activities.

  • Reducing muscle soreness: Proper nutrition can reduce the onset of muscle soreness by accelerating muscle repair. Protein and the antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables can also help you recover and reduce your discomfort after strenuous workouts.

  • Improving overall recovery: Beyond muscle repair and glycogen replenishment, eating after a workout helps rebalance other bodily functions affected by exercise. This includes regulating hormones, repairing cellular damage, and strengthening the immune system.

Which Foods Should You Prioritize After Exercising? 


Muscle tissue breaks down during exercise, so it’s important to consume nutrients that can support their repair.

Protein is one of the most crucial nutrients for promoting muscle growth and repair through a process known as muscle-protein synthesis.

Consuming an adequate amount of protein throughout the day ensures that you have enough essential amino acids to rebuild the microtears that develop in muscles. 

Amino acids are also building blocks for creating muscle mass, which can help you achieve a leaner appearance over time. 

The amount of protein each person needs typically depends on their body weight, but most people can safely consume between 20 and 40 grams per day.

Opt for lean and easily digestible sources of high-quality protein such as:

  • Grilled chicken or turkey breast

  • Fish like salmon or tuna

  • Eggs

  • Plant-based options like tofu, tempeh, or a mix of beans and legumes

  • Dairy products like Greek yogurt or cottage cheese

  • Whey or plant-based protein powder 


Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy and fuel, especially during a workout.

The rate at which carbs deplete depends on your choice of workout and the intensity at which you perform. 

For example, endurance sports can use more stored carbohydrates than resistance training. That’s why it’s important to consume enough carbs based on your activity level. 

You should aim to eat around three to five grams of carbs per pound of body weight each day to get the most out of your stored energy.

Rather choose complex carbohydrates instead of simple carbs since they often contain more nutrients. This includes foods like:

  • Whole grains, such as quinoa or whole wheat pasta 

  • Starchy vegetables, like sweet potatoes or squash

  • Fruits like bananas, berries, or apples 

Healthy fats

Healthy fats are essential for helping the body absorb nutrients, regulating hormones, and maintaining long-term energy. 

Including some fats in your post-workout meal can help your body retain and store carbohydrates more effectively. 

This can improve your endurance during your next exercise session, helping you to perform at a higher intensity. 

Rehydrating drinks

Proper hydration after working out is essential for optimal recovery. Fluids help transport nutrients to cells and are important for removing waste from muscles to promote growth.

Reach for electrolyte-rich beverages — like coconut water or a sports drink — to effectively restore any nutrients lost during an intense workout session.


Supplements can be a great addition to your diet, especially if you struggle to consume enough nutrients from the foods you eat. 

However, supplements are not substitutes for proper meals as they don’t provide enough sustenance to maintain bodily functions by themselves. 

Popular supplements you can add to your post-workout diet include:

  • Protein powders

  • Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which support muscle recovery and rehydration 

  • Creatine to help improve strength and performance 

  • Omega-3 fatty acids   

When is the Best Time to Eat After Working Out?

The timing of your post-workout meal is important for maximizing nutritional benefits and enhancing recovery. In this section, we’ll examine a few key factors. 

The anabolic window

The anabolic window is the period immediately after your workout when your body is most receptive to nutrient absorption. 

Consuming foods during this time — usually 30 to 45 minutes after completing your workout — can improve muscle repair and growth, which can speed up the recovery process.

Eating immediately after working out also kickstarts the repair of damaged muscle fibers, which can help reduce soreness.

It’s also essential for replenishing glycogen stores responsible for providing the body with energy throughout the day. 

What if you can’t eat during the anabolic window?

While eating during the anabolic window is ideal, many people might not have the appetite or time to consume a full meal immediately after intense exercise. 

If this is the case, opt for a small snack high in protein and carbohydrates, and try to eat within two hours after working out. 

This balanced post-workout snack can be something simple, like a protein shake or a piece of fruit with a handful of nuts.

Tips for Eating After Exercising

It can be challenging to eat after working out, especially if you’re not sure which foods to consume. Here are a few tips that can help:

  • Balance your nutrients: Ensure that your post-workout meal or snack includes a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats to promote optimal recovery.

  • Prioritize hydration: Drink enough water and electrolyte-rich fluids to replenish any nutrients you lose while sweating. This also helps to avoid complications like dehydration.

  • Eat meals based on workout intensity: Adjust your portion sizes based on the intensity and duration of your workout. For example, more demanding workouts may require bigger or more nutrient-dense meals. 

  • Listen to your body: Pay attention to how your body reacts to different foods and when you eat them to determine what works best after a workout. If you experience digestive discomfort, adjust your food choices instead of ignoring the symptoms for the sake of nutrients.

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Common mistakes to avoid 

Knowing what to avoid when it comes to post-workout nutrition can help you make the right dietary choices to take proper care of your health. 

A few common mistakes to avoid include: 

  • Overeating: It’s easy to overestimate the number of calories burned during a workout, which may contribute to an excess. Over time, this can lead to weight gain, so be mindful of portion sizes. 

  • Relying on processed snacks: While these snacks are convenient, they often lack the essential nutrients required for optimal recovery after a workout. These foods may also be high in calories and sugars, which can contribute to weight gain. 

  • Consuming high-fat meals: Consuming healthy fats after working out can help with your recovery. However, meals very high in fats — healthy or unhealthy — can have the opposite effect and cause a delay in nutrient absorption. High-fat meals can also cause spikes in blood sugar, which can leave you feeling sluggish, bloated, and uncomfortable. 

Where Can You Learn More About Healthy Eating and Lifestyle Habits?

If you’re looking for more information on healthy eating habits to enhance your workout performance and improve your health, LifeMD has got you covered.

We can connect you to a team of medical professionals who can provide information on healthy eating habits and weight management — all from the comfort of your home. 

Make an appointment with LifeMD to learn more about ways to manage your weight and take control of your health, today.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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