What to Eat After a Workout, According to a Dietitian

After at-home workouts, it’s important to know how to refuel.

By Toni Gasparis
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Easy At-Home Ab Workout (1:49)

I don’t know about you, but I usually find myself to be slightly hungry after a workout. I’ve found this to be especially true in the last few months, since I’ve been working out in my basement and walking straight upstairs into the kitchen when I’m done. After sweating and burning calories, I always try to be cautious about what I put into my body, but I don’t always know what the right choice is. To find out what to eat after a workout, DoctorOz.com spoke to registered dietitian and board certified specialist in sports dietetics based in NYC, Allison Knott, MS, RDN, CSSD to get the scoop on how to properly refuel your body.

Recent data from Sharecare showed that 70% of people surveyed were working out just as much or even more than they usually do while in quarantine. Now that people are moving more, it’s just as important to get a better understanding of what foods complement your post-workout routine. To start, Knott recommends thinking about the three “recovery Rs” as a rule of thumb: refuel, restore, and repair. “Refuel with carbohydrates, restore fluids and electrolytes lost during exercise, and repair with protein,” she says.

8 Snacks to Eat After a Workout

Giving your body the right nutrients after working out is essential for proper muscle recovery. Knott says you should be focusing on protein and carbohydrates: “Protein intake is essential for muscle protein synthesis and carbohydrate intake aids in replenishing muscle glycogen stores used for energy during endurance exercise.”

According to Knott, you should aim to eat 20-25 grams of protein post-workout because it helps repair muscle. The foods you choose might be dependent on factors like availability and cost, but here are some that Knott recommends:

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt + fruit
  • 3 oz chicken + whole grains
  • 1 cup tofu + starchy vegetables
  • Natural peanut butter + banana
  • Handful of almonds + handful of dried fruit
  • 2 hard boiled eggs + whole wheat toast
  • 1 cup cottage cheese + fruit
  • 3 oz salmon + whole grains

Foods for High Vs. Low-Intensity Exercises

It’s important to be aware of how much exercise you’re doing in relation to your food consumption afterwards. For example, if you are performing 45 minutes of a high-intensity exercise (like HIIT or spin), you’ll need more to replenish your body than if you went on a 30 minute walk around the block. Knott notes that if you’re doing extensive strength training, you’ll probably require more protein to help with muscle repair. “As a general rule, the greater the intensity and time of the workout, the more important it is to focus on refueling to promote recovery,” Knott says.

While the amount of time you choose to exercise is up to you (whenever you can fit it in is great), Knott says it’s important to eat within two hours after working out. “If a meal is planned within the one to two hour window, then opt for the meal. However, if a snack is most convenient because a meal won’t be eaten for multiple hours then a snack is best,” says Knott.

How Much Water Should I Drink?

Keeping yourself hydrated throughout the day is essential, especially if your day includes exercise. While how much water you should drink is dependent on things like your body size and activity level, Knott has some recommendations for how to stay well-hydrated. “Consume approximately 1 ounce of fluid for every 10 pounds of body weight in the four hours before exercise. For a 150-pound person, that’s about 15 ounces of fluid. That amount can, and should, increase in the two hours prior to exercise, especially if you are planning to exercise in extreme temperatures.”

It’s also necessary to drink during your workout, as well as afterwards, to replenish the water your body is losing through sweat. The amount you drink during these times is dependent on how much you worked out as well as the temperature you worked out in: longer, intense exercising in heat will require more water consumption than a short walk on a breezy day.

Are Protein Shakes a Good Idea?

Protein shakes are a common go-to after a workout. Knott says they’re actually a good choice because they contain protein and fluids to replenish you. Knott recommends adding in fruit for a carb source to make this a really complete post-workout snack. Or, check the label on your protein powder, which may already have carbs included. “A protein shake is [a good choice, but it’s not] superior to any other food that offers adequate protein and carbs after a workout. In general, any post-workout meal or snack that provides adequate protein, carbohydrates, fluid, and helps to meet total energy needs will work for a recovery option post-workout.”

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Article written by Toni Gasparis