Post Workout: What to Eat After a Workout

(Article by Rebecca Ireland).

To find out what we should consider eating after a workout, we caught up with Personal Trainer and Study Active Assessor Rebecca Ireland, who talks us through her views on this important topic.

NOTE: The views in this article are the opinions of the person being interviewed and should not be take as direct advice. If you are unsure on what foods you should consume you are always encouraged to contact a Clinical Nutritionist or Dietician

What is the best post workout meal?

I am often asked the questions “what is the best post-workout meal?”, “what is the best post workout meal for muscle gain?”, “should you have a post workout shake?” and “what are the best things to eat after gym?” I’m going to answer the above questions giving you what I believe is the best post workout meal ideas, the best things to eat after a workout and why.

When we exercise and finish our workouts, especially if they are strenuous workouts, it is important to eat after gym food, or better known as a post workout meal. This is because whilst we workout we deplete the body’s glycogen stores. The muscles in our body uses glycogen as the primary fuel during exercise. Following your workout, the best thing to eat is a post-workout meal that is rich in carbohydrates. Having carbohydrates in your after-gym meal is crucial because this is what we refill the depleted glycogen stores with, post workout. Consuming carbohydrates after exertion not only replenishes these vital energy reserves, but eating carbohydrates are also good to consume in your after-gym food as it can also speed up the recovery process and prepare the body for further physical demands.

Protein is also important to have in our post workout meals as protein is essential after a workout to repair and grow our muscles. After engaging in a strenuous workout, post workout meals not only need to have foods to refuel our bodies, but your body also requires protein to start the process of repairing and growing your muscles. Consuming protein-rich foods as part of our post workout meal is vital to help aid recovery by replenishing our muscles to help them repair and then grow. 

Healthy fats are also required in your post workout meal to support hormone production and nutrient absorption, and adequate hydration to restore fluid levels lost in your workouts.

The best thing to have after a workout and as part of a post-workout meal is a combination of carbohydrates, protein and a small amount of healthy fats. Having carbohydrates and protein as the main ingredients in your after-gym meals not only offers ample protein to fuel your body's needs but, also provides the right proportion of carbohydrates. Furthermore, when paired with a rich source of protein, carbohydrates can improve muscle protein synthesis, providing a synergistic effect for muscle growth which are beneficial as part of a post-workout meal.

What would be most appropriate to eat after a workout for breakfast?

In my opinion the best food to eat for a post workout breakfast would be porridge oats with banana and an extra scoop of your favourite protein powder. Or another of my favourite post workout breakfast is oatmeal with milk/almond milk, fruit, and nuts or you can use nut butter, which can give an extra protein kick.

Consuming bananas in your post-workout meal are great as bananas are an excellent source of carbohydrates and potassium, which can help to restore energy levels after a workout. Including bananas in your after-gym food has its benefits as they are a great source of sustenance and energy for gym goers and athletes. Not only are they a good source of natural carbohydrates which is essential to have in your post-workout meal, but bananas are also full of potassium, which is an electrolyte that helps to restore lost energy levels after hard workouts. Having bananas in your after gym meals are particularly beneficial as they are easy to digest and portable, making them a great snack to eat before, during, or after physical activity, and are one of the best things to eat after the gym or one of the best things to eat post workout if working out at home for example.

Having bananas as part of your post workout breakfast means the carbohydrates are quickly accessible and easily digested, which is essential as it helps to quickly refuel the body. Not only is a banana one of the best things to eat after the gym, but they are also great for before a workout. Eating a banana can help provide energy during exercise. During exercise, the carbohydrates can help the body sustain energy for extended periods. And after a workout, the carbohydrates can help to replenish the body’s glycogen stores, as well as the potassium which can help to replace electrolytes lost during exercise.

In my experience, another post workout breakfast favourite of mine is oatmeal with milk or almond milk, fruit, and nuts or nut butter which can give an extra protein kick, and nuts are also rich in healthy fats, all vital for muscle recovery and build-up post-workout. I believe it is essential to have a well-balanced post-workout meal, because it can make a significant difference in muscle recovery and performance. Having a post-workout breakfast that consists of oatmeal mixed with milk or almond milk, fruit, and nuts or nut butter as part of your post-workout meal and consumed immediately after a workout can provide your body with essential nutrients. Oatmeal alone has its benefits in a post-workout meal as it offers complex carbohydrates that help replenish energy levels and stabilize blood sugar after a strenuous workout. In addition to this, consuming milk as part of your after-gym meals enhances the effectiveness of the post workout meal with its high-quality protein content, which assists in the repair of muscle tissue and helps promote growth.

In my opinion Greek yogurt: is also good to have as a post workout breakfast. I sometimes have Greek yoghurt in my post-workout meal instead of porridge or oatmeal. Greek yoghurt is great to include in your after-gym meals because it is high in protein and contains probiotics, which can help to restore the natural balance of bacteria in the digestive system. Greek yogurt is one of the best things to eat after the gym and as part of your post-workout breakfast because, Greek yoghurt is a strained yogurt that has a higher fat content and thicker consistency than regular yogurt. Greek yogurt contains around double the amount of protein compared to regular yogurt and is considered a nutrient-dense food which I find really filling. I feel that Greek yoghurt is much better for you than regular yoghurt, especially as a post workout food as it is made by straining regular yogurt until most of the liquid whey has been removed, which results in a thicker texture and higher concentration of protein which is great to include in a post-workout meal. Other health benefits associated with Greek yogurt include improved digestion, better immune system function, and improved heart health, so another valid reason to include it in your post-workout breakfast. Greek yogurt can be eaten by itself or used as an ingredient in a variety of recipes, including smoothies, dips, and dressings. As mentioned above I sometimes mix it with fruit and protein powder either as my post workout breakfast or in a smoothie which is great to have as a post workout meal if you are on the go as you can have it already made up and take it with you. It is also a lower-calorie alternative to other dairy products, making it a great option for people trying to manage their weight.

What is an example of food to eat after a workout in the evening?

Another topic to discuss is what food to eat after workout at night. In my opinion this depends what time you work out in the evening. I personally don’t like to train too late in the evening as I like to have a good nutritious post workout meal, a good few hours before I then settle down for bed. 

In my opinion the best thing to eat after a workout in the evening are

  • Sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes are great as part of your post workout meal as they are starchy vegetables packed with complex carbohydrates, as well as vitamins A and C, which can help to boost energy levels post workout. Sweet potatoes are one of the best things to eat in an after-gym meal in the evening as they stand out as one of the particularly beneficial carbohydrate sources well-suited to boost energy levels, they are a good source of complex carbohydrate to help replenish the glycogen store used during your workout and are rich in nutritious vitamins as well as fibre, making them easy to digest.
  • Avocado: Avocados are another fantastic thing to have in your post workout meal. These can be as part of an evening post-workout meal or as a post workout breakfast depending on your preference. The avocado is a superfood packed with healthy fats, fibre, and potassium, which can again, much like bananas help to replenish electrolytes lost during exercise which is crucial to have as part of your after-gym meals. Having the avocado as one of your after-gym foods has numerous beneficial properties. It is high in healthy fats, such as oleic acid and monounsaturated fatty acids, which have been associated with a reduced risk of developing heart disease. In addition to this, the avocado is one of the best things to eat after a workout as it is a good source of dietary fibre, which can help to keep you regular and improve gut health. It also contains a number of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. One of the most important benefits of avocado for athletes is its ability to replenish electrolytes lost during exercise. Another important factor to consider for a post workout meal is that the avocado is rich in potassium, which helps to regulate proper fluid balance and maintain a healthy neurological system. Furthermore, it is also high in magnesium, a mineral essential for muscle contraction and energy production, as well as calcium, which is necessary for strong bones making it a great all-round food to include in your post workout meal.
  • Quinoa and other grains are more great foods to include in your post-workout meal. They can provide healthful carbohydrates needed after a workout and as part of your after-gym meals. Specifically, quinoa is a gluten-free choice, making it a good option for those with dietary restrictions. This grain is one of the best things to eat after a workout as it is a great source of protein, fibre, and essential minerals like iron, zinc, and magnesium. Consuming the right type of carbohydrate after a workout and as part of your after-gym meal is crucial to replenish the lost glycogen and to aid muscle recovery. Qualifying as one such carbohydrate, quinoa, along with other grains, can provide the essential post-workout nutrients that the body requires and a brilliant after gym food. For those who require gluten free post-workout meals Quinoa stands out from other grains and is conformed to be one of the best thing to have after the gym for those with dietary needs of people who strictly follow a gluten-free diet. Such dietary relevance makes it a suitable post-exercise ingredient and vital for as part of a post-workout meal for those with gluten intolerance or sensitivity. Also, being rich in healthful carbohydrates makes quinoa a top choice after strenuous physical exercises to refill the energy utilized during the workout, and also great food to eat after a workout at night, as can reduce bloating.
  • Protein-rich foods, like chicken breast, are vital after a workout to repair and grow muscles and great after gym food. Combining chicken with brown rice provides a balanced meal of protein and carbohydrates to include your post gym meals and are the best things to eat after the gym in the evening. The protein found in chicken breast from your after-gym meals is crucial for muscle recovery and growth. It provides essential amino acids needed by the body to repair muscles after a workout and are top of my list as one of my ‘What food to eat after workout at night?’

 In my opinion and for those who work out later in the evening and don’t tend to have a full dinner because it’s too late, I believe a nice post-workout meal full of carbohydrates and rich in protein to help replenish glycogen stores and to help aid recovery for both growth and repair is a nice bowl of Greek yoghurt, a banana and  a scoop of your favourite protein powder. This is my go-to post workout meal after a late session in the gym and is the best workout meal after the gym especially if you have a sweet tooth and crave sweet things at night like me.

What is the best post workout meal for muscle gain?

A popular question I am often asked about post workout meals is “what is the best post-workout meal for muscle gain? In my opinion and as already mentioned above it is crucial that after completing a workout, individuals must consume foods that are rich in carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. After gym-foods that contain carbohydrates and protein specifically as part of your after-gym meal offers important benefits for muscle recovery and to stimulate growth.

Firstly, carbohydrate rich foods are one of the best things to eat after a workout as they play an essential role in restoring energy levels post-workout. Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy, and during strenuous exercise, your body depletes its glycogen stores. Replenishing these stores by consuming carbohydrates in your post-workout meals can help to boost energy recovery. In addition to this, the carbohydrates from your after-gym meals assist the protein, and allow the body to better utilize the ingested protein to rebuild and repair your muscles and is therefore one of the essential ingredients to include to make it the best post-workout meal for muscle gain.

Protein rich foods are another important ingredient used to make up the best workout meal for muscle gain.  After-gym foods that are rich in protein are critical for muscle repair and rebuilding, as it provides the body with the necessary amino acids required for these processes, and aids in growth or otherwise known as building muscle. Consuming adequate amounts of protein in your after gym-meals can therefore help to repair the muscle damage that can occur during exercise, while also promoting the growth of new muscle tissue.

The best post-workout meal for muscle gain will have a combination of both carbohydrate and protein rich foods. However, when planning a post-workout meal, careful attention should be paid not only to the activity itself but, also to the post-workout meal. The specific amounts and types of carbs and protein to consume can vary depending on individual needs and workout intensity, but the general guideline remains that these two nutrients are essential for your post-workout meal and recovery. When building muscle, you should consider more complex carbohydrates in your after-gym meals as an increase in calories and the right type of carbohydrates and protein will help you build muscle.

What is the best post workout meal for weight loss?

I believe a planning your post-workout meal is key when wanting to lose weight. Having the right type of nutrients as part of your pre, and post-workout meals is not just essential for fuelling the body but also plays a crucial role in a speedy recovery after a workout. Meaning the better and quicker you recover (which can increase weight loss), the more effective your next workout performance will be. Resulting in burning more calories, which is essential for losing weight.

Be mindful when planning your post-workout meals as consuming the right foods and the right amount of food is an important part of your post workout meal. Not only does your after-gym foods aid in faster recovery, but you don’t want to over consume from your post-workout meals and undo all the hard work you have just done during your exercise session.

Are there any benefits to eating within one hour of exercising?

In my experience having a post-workout meals or post-workout snacks shortly after exercising is beneficial as it maximises recovery and muscle repair, since the muscles are at their most vulnerable after being used in exercise and they lack both glycogen (carbohydrates) which need to be replenished and protein for repair. Ideally consuming a nutritious post-workout meal within 30-90 minutes of exercising is beneficial for the body's recovery process. This post-workout meal should include carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores, protein to stimulate muscle repair and growth, healthy fats to support hormone production and nutrient absorption, and adequate hydration to restore fluid levels. It is important to consume after-gym foods within these times as it is crucial for kick-starting the recovery process, preventing muscle breakdown, and promoting muscle growth. A balanced meal rich in carbohydrates, protein, and fluids within the appropriate timeframe ensures that the body gets the necessary nutrients to repair, replenish energy stores, and adapt to the physical stress of exercise.

I often have a post workout shake as I’m leaving the gym to get the recovery process going. In my experience having a scoop of your favourite protein powder, a squeeze of honey for some natural sugar (carbohydrate) and a decent amount of water all mixed in as a post workout shake, and best thing to eat after a workout as it consists of water to rehydrate you, small amount of carbohydrates to help replenish the glycogen stores and protein to help aid with recovery. It’s an all-round win, win in my opinion.

Summary of what to eat after a workout

This article has explored what may be considered the best post workout meal. It has explored what to eat for breakfast after a early morning workout as well as what to eat in the evening after a later workout. The article has also considered what to consume to support muscle gain and weight loss.. 

Thank you Rebecca for your very useful insight. We can certainly take away from this that focus on nutrition to compliment a workout is a very important recipe for success! Great food for thought Rebecca! 










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