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What To Eat After Workout To Lose Weight & Gain Muscle 2023

Emma

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Melissa Mitri, MS, RD

Best Post Workout Meal for Weight Loss and Muscle Gain

Why is post-workout nutrition important? When you exercise, your body expends energy. Where does this energy come from?

It comes from the fuel that we eat. Exercise depletes the body of glycogen stores and carbohydrates. We know what carbs are, but what is glycogen?

Glycogen is your body’s first line of defense when calories are in short supply. After expending a lot of energy, these stores are what your body tries to replenish first. To facilitate this process, you can help your body by recovering with a balanced post-workout meal.

Some will tell you that protein replenishment is the end-all-be-all, but it’s not the only nutrient that’s important. Weight loss is a lifestyle to commit to, but if you do it right, you might start seeing the benefits of adequate sports nutrition much sooner than you expect.

Muscle Protein Breakdown, Protein Synthesis, and Sports Nutrition

Muscle hypertrophy is the fancy, scientific name describing the muscle-building process. Muscle protein synthesis is the creation of new building blocks used to repair your muscles after a workout. 

We stimulate muscle gains by exerting ourselves and elevating our heart rates. These exercises break our muscle cells down during our workout. We then re-build muscle as the body repairs the tissue over and over again.

As you continue to build muscle strength, you’ll experience two types of muscular hypertrophy[1]:

  • Myofibrillar, concerning the contractor muscles that help us move
  • Sarcoplasmic, which actually draws from your muscular glycogen stores directly

These muscle protein synthesis processes are triggered when our muscles are pushed past their physical limit. Like old cloth, the muscle tissue becomes tattered after an intense workout. We build more lean muscle mass as our muscle tissue becomes denser and more neurologically active with use and constant re-repair[2] (Page 106). 

As nerve activity increases with muscle use, those pathways become more and more active. It makes the action of whatever you’re doing much easier the next time that you do it; you reinforce the behavior on a biomechanical level, and, as activity increases, so does the rate of cell turnover and muscle repair.

Many factors will determine how much muscle growth you stand to see: your reflexes, the diameter and the composition of each muscle, as well as the quality of the muscle proteins contained therein. This will all result in protein synthesis in varying proportions and degrees. 

Muscle repair and post-workout nutrition go hand-in-hand, and you shouldn’t have one without the other. If you’re also looking to lose fat as you gain muscle, you’ll be interested in learning more about the “anabolic window” 

This relates to your body’s ability to build muscle protein after a workout.

What Is The Anabolic Window?

Your heart is designed to kick it up a notch when the body needs more oxygen or fuel. This is why you run out of breath when you sprint faster than your body is used to. Your heart races and blood shoots throughout the body in an effort to provide more nutrients to fuel this intense exercise. 

This so-called anabolic response is one of the reasons why nutrition post-workout is so important. Your body is a machine, and, in order to perform at its peak, you need to give it what it’s asking for during peak times

Some claim that timing the way that you eat post-workout around the anabolic window is the secret[3] to building muscle. Fueling with a nutritious snack just at the right time will assist your muscle cells in building back up. Eating during this anabolic window of time gives your cells everything that they need at exactly the perfect moment.

This anabolic window lasts approximately thirty minutes to two hours after your workout has ended. The exact window of time will depend on the intensity of the workout and when you last ate before exercising. To make the most out of your post-workout meal, many experts recommend taking advantage of this opportune time.

What Are the Best Post-Workout Meals for Recovery?

As far as we’re concerned, the perfect post-workout meal includes the following:

Whole Foods

Not only are whole foods an excellent source of carbs – but they also provide your body with nearly 25% of its daily recommended water intake[4] on average.

Healthy Fats

If you’re one to indulge in a post-workout protein shake, studies show that including some form of healthy fat into the mix (Such as milk proteins, peanut butter, or MCT oil) may greatly improve satiety[5] after consumption. 

Protein 

Protein also plays a role[6] in how satisfied you are after a tough workout and a post-workout snack.

Fluids 

Fluids and other agents that aid the body in nutrient absorption post-workout. Your gastric motor activity and the gastric emptying rate that follows[7] will end up determining how good you feel after you eat post-workout. This is actually one of the reasons why hydrating yourself before, during, and after vigorous resistance exercise is imperative.

Supplementation

Supplementation, if necessary or desired for performance. This can come in the form of whey protein powder or another form of dairy protein supplement. Some studies indicate that, alongside a stretching routine[8] pre-and post-workout, some supplements might actually help you prevent[9] muscle soreness after exercise.

Once you know exactly what your body needs, planning your routine becomes a simple matter of choosing high-quality sources of nutrition that you look forward to eating after the gym.

The Best Foods to Eat After Working Out

After weight training or any other form of intense exercise, you’ll likely be ravenous, but your body will probably be craving something on the lighter side.

Choosing rich, nutrient-dense foods is one way to get the most bang for your buck. You’ll replenish your energy stores without loading yourself down too much after exertion.

After your resistance training workout, you’ll want to consume a combination of fat, carbs, and protein for optimal results. Here are several ideas to get you started.

Fats 

  1. Peanut butter, or any other type of nut butter
  2. Avocados
  3. Chia or flax seed-enhanced snacks and meals, like flaxmeal banana bread or a smoothie with chia seeds mixed in
  4. Fatty fish, like salmon or tuna

Extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil

Consuming carbohydrates after resistance exercise is also vital. As always, it’s best to choose complex over simple, (but you can certainly make an exception if your body is asking for it. A healthy smoothie with lots of fruit instead of a real, sit-down meal is sometimes just what the doctor’s order.

You can spin the below in a million different ways.

Carbs

  1. Whole-grain bread
  2. Long-grain brown rice
  3. Sweet potatoes
  4. Whole grains such as millet, barley, and quinoa

As for your essential amino acids for muscle growth, lean, slow-digesting proteins are key.

Protein

  1. Seafood
  2. Grilled chicken
  3. rass-fed beef

For the non-meat eaters among us, we have some good news: milk protein has been shown to stand strong as excellent fuel during your workout. It may also help facilitate a more desirable shift[10] in body composition long-term. 

The following non-meat proteins will contribute energy and vitality to your future workouts. 

  1. Milk
  2. Cottage cheese
  3. Greek yogurt
  1. Eggs
  2. Tofu

The more effectively you’re able to recover your glycogen storage and carb count, the more energized you’ll feel the next time you’re at the gym. Are you ready to cook?

Our Best Post-Workout Meal Ideas

If your goal is to build lean muscle mass and increase muscle growth, lean mass development the following post-workout recipes will help you get there. 

Keep in mind that the more muscle you build,  the more calories you’ll need to consume in order to support your muscle-building efforts.

A Gluten-Free Post-Workout Smoothie

A post-workout smoothie can be anything that you want it to be. One common strategy is freezing a bunch of fruit in advance and throwing in whatever you want after you’re done exercising. Fruits and vegetables such as bananas, mangos, blanched greens, baked sweet potatoes, beets, pineapple, and berries all pack a nutritional punch and are very easy on the stomach.

Supplementing your fitness smoothie with whey protein is one way to pack in a few more calories if necessary. Other add-ins include the aforementioned chia, flax, and nut butter, coconut, yogurt, juice, milk, Medjool dates, cocoa powder, stevia, vanilla, and perhaps even some boba if you’re feeling frisky. 

These ingredients will all ensure that you’re never bored at the blending station.

And you don’t necessarily need to go on a strict juice cleanse to lose weight. If the goal is to lose fat, however, try replacing a few meals a week with one of these nourishing and balanced smoothie ideas. 

A Quick and Easy Snack Plate

If you’re one to come home from work or school and grab a bite of everything, a fun and light snack plate is the ultimate way to relax after a workout.

Having a little bit of everything helps you recover a wide range of nutrient stores – fat, protein, and carbs., A dollop of cottage cheese or greek yogurt alongside some nuts and dried fruit, some cured meat and cheese, and maybe even a tab or two of dark chocolate will help you get your fix without falling victim to crazy cravings later on in the day or evening.

A well-balanced snack plate post-workout looks different in every kitchen. Keep healthy options on-hand and accessible for when it’s time to munch.

A Hearty Yet Light Post-Workout Meal

Finally, for the gentleman or -woman: a real meal. Those bulking are likely scoffing at the smoothies we’ve mentioned, as sometimes you just need some serious fuel. In this case, the best course of action is to throw it down in the kitchen.

What does an ideal dinner look like? A source of protein, a complex carb, and some vegetables for fiber are the perfect way to wind down for the evening after your workout. You’ll feel great and you’ll end up looking great, too.

Again, it all comes down to what you like. The meat may naturally be the first choice of many athletes, but plant-based sources of protein like soy and quinoa are both equally comprehensive[11] in terms of the amino acids, or protein-building blocks, that the human body requires.

Meal prepping in advance makes eating well easy and convenient. For example, you can grill a whole bunch of chicken and boil one pot of rice for the entire week for an easy, grab-and-go type of situation.

Making the Most of Your Workout

Our recovery process after giving it our all at the gym plays a significant role in how our bodies adapt to subsequent workout sessions. It’s a self-perpetuating process – depletion, replenishment, recovery. Then the next morning, we wake up stronger than ever.

It might feel like magic, but there’s plenty of science to back it all up. When you play by the rules, you will be rewarded handsomely -no pun intended.


+ 11 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

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  2. ‌Zatsiorsky, V. (n.d.). BIOMECHANICS IN SPORT PERFORMANCE ENHANCEMENT AND INJURY PREVENTION VOLUME IX OF THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF SPORTS MEDICINE AN IOC MEDICAL COMMISSION PUBLICATION IN COLLABORATION WITH THE INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF SPORTS MEDICINE EDITED BY. [online] Available at: https://stillmedab.olympic.org/media/Document%20Library/OlympicOrg/IOC/Who-We-Are/Commissions/Medical-and-Scientific-Commission/Encyclopaedia/2000_Zatsiorsky.pdf#page=117.
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  4. ‌Journal of the American College of Nutrition. (2013). Role of Whole Foods in Promoting Hydration after Exercise in Humans. [online] Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.2007.10719664
  5. ‌Maljaars, P.W.J., Symersky, T., Kee, B.C., Haddeman, E., Peters, H.P.F. and Masclee, A.A.M. (2008). Effect of ileal fat perfusion on satiety and hormone release in healthy volunteers. International Journal of Obesity, [online] 32(11), pp.1633–1639. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/ijo2008166
  6. ‌Westerterp-Plantenga, M.S., Lemmens, S.G. and Westerterp, K.R. (2012). Dietary protein – its role in satiety, energetics, weight loss and health. British Journal of Nutrition, [online] 108(S2), pp.S105–S112. Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/dietary-protein-its-role-in-satiety-energetics-weight-loss-and-health/CCA49F7254E34FF25FD08A78A05DECD7
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  8. ‌Herbert, R.D., de Noronha, M. and Kamper, S.J. (2011). Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. [online] Available at: https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004577.pub3/full
  9. ‌Burnley, E.C.D., Olson, A.N., Sharp, R.L., Baier, S.M. and Alekel, D.L. (2010). Impact of Protein Supplements on Muscle Recovery After Exercise-induced Muscle Soreness. Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness, [online] 8(2), pp.89–96. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1728869X10600147
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Emma

Medically reviewed by:

Melissa Mitri

Emma Garofalo is a writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. A lover of science, art, and all things culinary, few things excite her more than the opportunity to learn about something new." It is now in the sheet in the onboarding paperwork, apologies!!

Medically reviewed by:

Melissa Mitri

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