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What to Eat After Working Out: Protect Your Gains

What to Eat After Working Out: Protect Your Gains

After a hard, sweat-inducing workout you need to refuel your body. Experts suggest that eating a meal within 30 minutes to 2 hours after a workout is ideal to help build muscle, restore energy, and minimize soreness. Knowing what to eat after working out is essential if you want to reach your fitness goals.

What to eat after working out

First of all, it is important to determine your dietary needs in general. You don’t want to eat too much or too little. Next, you should take into consideration what kind of workout you did and what your fitness goals are. For example, someone running a marathon has very different nutritional needs from someone doing yoga or powerlifting.

Talk to a doctor and registered dietitian to calculate your recommended calorie and macronutrient intake.

Are Macronutrients Important? Why Macros Matter


Despite its bad reputation, carbohydrates are an essential part of any diet. In most cases, carbs make up the majority of a person’s diet. Even in low-carb diets such as the Atkins or ketogenic diet, carbs are drastically lowered but are not completely eliminated.

Carbs are made up of sugar compounds, and are found in starch, fiber, and sugar. The human body uses sugars like glucose to fuel a variety of metabolic processes. Essentially, these sugars are a sort of currency for energy. Excess sugar is stored as glycogen or converted to fat and stored in the body.

After long workouts, the body has used up all its available sugar and is starting to break down glycogen and fat for energy. It is important to eat a combination of simple and complex carbohydrates. Examples of simple carbs include white rice, refined sugar, and fruit juice. For complex carbs, whole grains such as brown rice, wheat bread, and vegetables do the trick.

If you are on a low-carb diet or do more strength than endurance training, you still need carbs. However, it best to closely watch how much of it you eat. Instead, your diet should contain more protein. Try to eat complex carbs after working out and avoid too many sweets.

What to Eat After Working Out


Protein is one of the best macronutrients for athletes and gym-goers. Contrary to popular belief, protein is not just for weightlifters and competitive athletes. Everyone needs protein, and the need increases with the amount of physical activity you do.

You should eat something with protein as soon as you can after a workout, especially if you lift weights or do body-weight exercises. This is to provide amino acids and rebuild the muscles fibers that broke down and sustained damage during exercise.

Whey protein and meal supplement shakes are a popular choice because they are packed with protein and are very convenient to carry around and drink. However, it is still best to get your protein from whole food sources like eggs, meat, legumes, nuts, and dairy. Choose leaner cuts of meat, like chicken breast and trimmed steaks.

If you are on a plant-based diet or want to cut out cholesterol, skip the meat and try imitation meat along with green vegetables like kale or broccoli.

What to Eat After Working Out


Many people are afraid of the word “fat.” Despite being associated with obesity and junk food, fat is still an essential part of our diet. In fact, fats are important for our cells. They also cushion our organs and help with vitamin absorption.

However, knowing how much and what types of fat to eat are important. Fat can come from animal and plant sources. Unsaturated fat is the “better” type of fat because it carries lower cardiovascular risks. These types of fats are usually from vegetable sources and are liquid at room temperature.

On the other hand, people need to watch out for saturated fats. Diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol increase the risk of atherosclerosis, heart disease, and obesity.

Right after a workout, avoid eating anything greasy or high in fat, as it may be hard to digest and absorb. Instead, opt for protein-rich food with healthy fat such as omega-3 and unsaturated fat. These can be found in fish like salmon and sardines, nuts, and fruit like avocados.


The last, but certainly not the least, is water. Before, during, and after workouts, rehydration is key. Most of the time, plain water is enough. If you lost a lot of sweat during your workout, drink some electrolyte replacement drinks. However, check the label and only drink it in moderation, as some brands contain as much sugar as soda which can worsen dehydration.

Water vs Sports Drinks for Athletes: Quench Your Thirst Right

Key takeaways

In summary, carbs and protein are what to eat first after working out. Try to eat or drink something with both carbs and protein within the first 30 minutes after exercising. Then, eat a complete meal within 2 hours. If you are practicing intermittent fasting, it is still important to eat after a workout. Time your eating window for after your expected workout.

Consult your doctor for more information regarding your diet, exercise, and general health goals.

Learn more about Healthy Eating here.


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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Eating and exercise: 5 tips to maximize your workouts https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20045506 Accessed January 26, 2021

Industry presented blog: what to eat before and after a workout https://www.acsm.org/blog-detail/acsm-certified-blog/2018/06/25/what-to-eat-before-and-after-a-workout Accessed January 26, 2021

Achieving optimal post-exercise muscle protein remodeling in physically active adults through whole food consumption https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5852800/ Accessed January 26, 2021

What to Eat Before, During, and After Exercise https://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/fulltext/2018/07000/shareable_resource__what_to_eat_before,_during,.4.aspx Accessed January 26, 2021

Carbohydrates https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/ Accessed January 26, 2021

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Written by Stephanie Nicole G. Nera, RPh, PharmD on Jan 27
Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel