Learn how to refuel the right way with these post-workout snack and meal ideas.

By Mike Roussell, Ph.D., and Sharon Liao
Updated August 29, 2019
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Always starving after you workout? You’re not alone. We've all been so hangry post-workout that we’d do just about anything for an RXBAR.

While it may seem a little counterintuitive, eating after workouts—as soon as possible, turns out—is the best time of day to eat. Even if you're not starving (which is normal, too), you should still try to eat something.

The good news is that you’re not going to “cancel out” the calories you just burned during exercise if you’re eating after workouts. Weight loss and the human body don't work like that. When you're exercising, your body burns fat to be used as energy. If you nosh right after your workout, those calories won't be used to replace the burned body fat. Your body only stores food as body fat when it doesn't have anything else to do with the extra calories you eat. After a challenge, your body needs to start restoring and repairing itself from your training session. In other words, it needs calories. (What you snack on pre-sweat is important too! See the best breakfast to eat before every type of workout.)

Why Eating After Workouts Is So Vital

The calories you consume eating after workouts will be used to replace energy stores in your muscles that got used up during your training session. Your body also uses any protein you eat to build and repair your muscles that were broken down as a result of you pushing them to their limits.

Eating after workouts is beneficial for many reasons. Your body will automatically use the calories you eat for good (repair and recovery) and not bad (fat storage). In fact, research shows that your body's ability to refill muscle energy stores decreases by 50 percent if you wait to eat just two hours after your workout compared to eating right away. Eating after workouts may also increase your body's insulin sensitivity or its ability to use carbohydrates—an important factor for weight loss and health) for the following 24 hours. (Related: 14 Post-Workout Snacks Trainers Swear By)

What to Eat After Workouts

Your next question might be "Okay, then what should I eat after workouts?" Directly following your workout, try a liquid meal that contains protein and carbohydrates like Gatorade G3 or a similar recovery drink. These drinks don't require a lot of digestion, so the nutrients will get into your system fast, allowing for your body to jump-start the recovery process. If your training session lasts longer than 60 minutes, aim for a recovery drink that contains at least 10 to 15 grams of protein and 30 to 40 grams of carbohydrates. Having a liquid meal is also more convenient than eating after workouts, as you can have it at the gym or on the commute home. Forty-five minutes to one hour after your workout, eat a whole food meal, again containing protein and carbohydrates. For example, a piece of fish with quinoa and a green salad with olive oil would be a great meal to have at this time.

Whatever you do, don't starve yourself after your workout. Take advantage of the metabolic and hormonal changes that happen post-workout to refuel and enjoy a good meal.

Top 3 Eating After Workout Tips

"What you eat can affect your energy levels, recovery time and even injury risk," says Jim White, R.D., the owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach and an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson

1. Don't go carb crazy.

"All meals should contain protein to rebuild muscles, carbs to supply energy and fat to increase endurance," White explains. When you’re eating after workouts, aim to strike a balance among whole grains, produce, and lean protein, with a bit of healthy fat as an accompaniment.

2. Time it right.

Schedule meals or snacks within two hours of exercising. "If you have a lunchtime class, have half of your sandwich beforehand and the rest of your meal afterward," suggests Lauren Antonucci, R.D., a sports nutritionist and the director of Nutrition Energy in New York City. And as a reminder, you should consume something (even just a small protein shake) within 30 minutes of finishing. (Discover the best vegan protein powder options—we promise they don’t taste like dirt)!

3. Plan ahead.

If you're running or biking for more than 90 minutes, pack some fuel—about 100 to 250 calories for each hour—says Nancy Clark R.D., the author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. Easily digested carbs, such as raisins and dried pineapple, provide a quick dose of energy.

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