What you eat after a workout is so important for adequate recovery. The important factors after exercise/training are to repair muscle protein that has broken down and replenish muscle glycogen that has been used for energy. It is therefore important to eat both protein and carbohydrate post workout. Eating them together promotes faster glycogen recovery and promotes more muscle gain compared to if eaten alone.
Nutritious and easily digested foods are the better option as they promote quicker absorption of nutrients and better recovery, so for example include foods such as sweet potato/white potato, pasta, oats, fruits, yoghurt, eggs etc. in your post workout meals. Although it is ok to have a small amount of fat in your post workout meal, try not to have excessive amounts as this may slow absorption down.
The more intense your training schedule is, the more carbohydrate you will need in your diet. If you train hard, low carbohydrate diets are not going to give you the energy that you need and you won’t be able to recover properly. The most effective time to ‘refuel’ is the 30 minute window after exercise. You should consume around 1g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight. So for example, a 50kg woman would require around 50g of carbohydrate. However ,this also depends on the type and duration of exercise; Extremely intense exercise (such as an endurance sport) may require 1.5g per kg body weight, where as light exercise (such as a short aerobics class) would probably require slightly less than 1g per kg of body weight.
Examples of foods containing 50g of carbohydrate include:
80g of oats
70g brown rice (uncooked weight)
250g sweet potato (uncooked weight)
1 cup cooked quinoa
Eating large amounts of protein does not equate to bigger muscles! Although people that train (e.g. strength training, endurance training etc.) do have increased protein needs (1.2 – 2g of protein per kg body weight, per day), if your energy requirements are met (overall calories) then you should be getting sufficient protein in the diet. Excess protein is excreted out of the body in the urine. Or if you are not getting enough carbohydrate and fat in the diet it would be used as energy, which means muscle would be sacrificed. When it comes to protein it is more the timing that is important (e.g. getting sufficient protein after your workout and sufficient protein spread across the day). The general rule of thumb is to have around 20g of protein after training. A larger person might need more because relative to their weight their overall calorie needs would be greater.
Examples of foods containing 20g of protein or more include:
A chicken breast, piece of salmon or tin of tuna
200g cottage cheese
Post workout meal ideas
Piece of chicken breast (or tin of tuna) with a jacket potato or rice
A tuna sandwich
Salmon with sweet potato
Cottage cheese with fruit
Greek yoghurt with berries and home-made muesli
Oats with whey protein and berries
Having some form of fruit such as berries or cherries after a workout might be beneficial as they are a great source of antioxidants which may help to aid recovery by reducing muscle damage and soreness.
Milk for recovery
Milk is an excellent recovery drink and is overlooked by many people. Milk has been found to be an effective recovery drink after resistance training, and studies have found that consuming milk straight after training can aid greater protein synthesis (making). Milk contains protein and carbohydrate which means it can help towards replenishing your energy too. It also contains all the essential amino acids so it is therefore a great quality source of protein.
Overall, eating right before and after your workouts is going to lead to better results and better recovery!
Ann-Marie is Registered Nutritionist (RNutr, MSc, BSc). Please get in touch if you need help with aspects of your diet.