Halperin agrees and says combining these for a “post-workout trifecta” is ideal. She lists yogurt and fruit, peanut butter sandwiches, turkey on whole grain bread with vegetables, hummus with whole wheat pita and veggies, and chicken with brown rice as some of the simple combos you can make yourself after exercising.
Carbs are what you need to replenish your energy, especially if you’re training for several hours or multiple times a day. Stangland says that complex carbohydrates (a.k.a. minimally processed) are the best types of carbs as they will provide a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and fibers. These include foods like whole grain bread, brown rice, vegetables, and fruit.
Halperin says that protein is what helps repair and build muscle, as studies show that taking in 20 to 40 grams is the right amount of protein to help the body maximize muscle growth and health after a workout. You can get your source of good protein in foods like eggs, yogurt, cheese, beans, tofu, tempeh, fish, shellfish, chicken, and turkey.
Stangland adds that foods with high leucine content, which can be found in chicken, fish, and cheese, are also a great option as they contain amino acids that turn on muscle protein synthesis.
Carbs and protein also help with recovery. Halperin points to studies that show consuming carbohydrates in a 3:1 ratio to protein has the most benefits to recovering your body after exercise. But there are other foods you can consider working into your post-workout meal.
“Anti-inflammatory foods are great after a workout to help with recovery and reducing muscle soreness,” says Stangland. “These could be tart cherries, turmeric, dark leafy greens, and deep-colored wild berries.”
She adds that you can look to omega-3 fats, like those found in salmon, olive oil, walnuts, and chia seed. Studies show that a week of omega-3 foods will reduce muscle damage. Asche is a big proponent of looking out for magnesium to support the muscles through soreness and antioxidant vitamin E, as it may help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. You can find a great source of vitamin E in almonds, she says. She explains that research has found that almonds are helpful in exercise recovery.
So what about fats? Turns out eating healthy low-fat foods may be beneficial after you exercise. “You can absolutely incorporate some fat in your post-workout meal or snack, I just recommend prioritizing sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat,” says Asche. She lists olives, olive oil, avocado, fatty fish like salmon, nuts like almonds, and seeds as healthy fats to look for. But Halperin says that there needs to be more research done to definitively say that incorporating fats into a post-workout nutrition meal can help with the repair and recovery process.
What should you drink after a workout?
“Consuming a drink after a workout is a great way to get multiple functional nutrients in your body quickly and efficiently,” says Stangland. “Depending on schedules, timing and resources, sitting down for a balanced post-workout snack is not always an option. A drink can get into the bloodstream quickly and deliver the recovery nutrients to the fatigued cells.” Halperin says the best thing you can drink after a workout is water. You’ll want to drink two to three cups of water post-workout for every pound you lose during your exercise session, just as the American College of Sports Medicine recommends. While you can consider a sports drink to help maintain electrolyte balance, Halperin would only do this for more strenuous workouts that last longer than an hour and advises watching the sugar content if there is any.
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