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What to eat or drink after a workout

Perhaps you’ve just started working out, or you’ve been doing it on the regular for a while. And now you’re wondering, after putting in all that effort exercising, what’s the best way to treat my body afterward?

“What do I eat or drink after a workout?”

It’s a good question because what we eat after exercising can impact the way we recover, build muscle, and how ready we’ll feel for our next sweat session. But first, a little body background:

What Happens To Our Body When We Exercise?


Glycogen is what fuels our workouts. So when we do any sort of strenuous activity, we begin depleting our muscles of their glycogen stores. And if part of our workout includes resistance/weight training, we’re also creating micro-tears in our muscles.

We can help our body more effectively restock those glycogen stores and repair muscles fibers when we do our part after a workout by eating right and getting the rest we need.

In particular, eating carbs and protein after a workout is what will help you recover more quickly, repair and build muscle (and since muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue does, muscle mass is a critical factor in losing weight), and feel ready for your next sweat session.

How Macronutrients Work In Our Post-Workout Recovery Process:


Eating protein after a workout gives our body the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild our muscles, instead of having it lose lean muscle mass.

And that’s important because lean muscle mass is what gives us the lean and toned appearance we’re all after.

Either animal or plant protein does the job, as long as it’s high in quality and is about 40-60 grams for men (think the size of 2 palms of the hand) or 20-30 grams for women (about the size of 1 palm).

Here are some examples:
•    Greek Yoghurt
•    Ricotta cheese
•    Cottage Cheese
•    Kefir
•    Whole eggs
•    Chicken
•    Salmon
•    Tuna
•    or a Protein Powder
(plant-based or animal-product-based are both OK)



Carbs are what help to replenish the glycogen stores we burn through when working out.
Obviously, the rate at which we use up our glycogen stores depends on the type of workout we do. Intense cardio or a long run, for example, will have our body using up more glycogen than say a weight-training or yoga workout. So weigh up the amount of carbs you eat on this basis. Eating enough will help boost your energy levels and mood.

Minimally processed whole food carbohydrates are the way to go as they’re better tolerated by the body, compared to say a plate of pasta. Here are some good examples:
•    Sweet potatoes
•    Quinoa, Brown Rice, Oatmeal
•    Fresh fruit

And What About Fats?


While a lot of people think that eating fat as part of your post-workout recovery meal slows down digestion and slows nutrient absorption, the good news is, healthy fats do not appear to get in the way of the good work protein, and carbs do on glycogen stores or muscle recovery.

In fact we know they’re important for us to feel satiated and not want to raid the cookie jar soon after eating. So if you’d like to add some:
•    Nuts
•    Nut butter or
•    Avocado

to your post-workout meal, go for it! Just make sure it’s eaten with some quality protein and whole-food carbs.

Healthy After Workout Meals


Here are 6 examples of healthy post-workout meals:

•    Slices of grilled chicken or lamb with veggies roasted in olive oil
•    Poached eggs, and half a smashed avocado on toasted Ezekiel bread
•    Oatmeal made with Greek yoghurt or Cottage cheese and fresh berries
•    Stir-fried tofu with Brown Rice or Quinoa and Leafy greens
•    Salmon and Egg omelette with sweet potato and avocado
•    Tuna Salad Sandwich

What to Eat After Cardio Versus Resistance or Weight Training


If you do a lot of heavy cardio such as running, swimming, or cycling, you’re best off eating a higher proportion of carbs and a moderate amount of protein – a meal such as brown rice or quinoa, together with some meat or tofu.

If on the other hand, you’re doing regular resistance training, or a lighter-style cardio workout, such as yoga, then you’ll benefit more from focusing on your protein, and supplementing with carbs. Think grilled salmon or tofu with some stir-fried veggies.

How Long After a Workout Should I Eat?


The timing of your post-workout meal does seem to matter. But that timing also depends on whether you’re working out:
•    fasted (for example, first thing in the morning on an empty stomach)
•    after a reasonably sized meal, or
•    after a small snack sometime beforehand

Eating the right kind of food, as listed above, will enhance your glycogen recovery. But wait too long, and that won’t happen as effectively.

So here’s how to calculate the timing of your post-workout meal:

If you’re working out fasted (e.g., first thing in the morning) = eat your post-workout meal as soon as you can after finishing your training.

If you’ve had a healthy snack, 1-2 hours before your workout = you can stretch out your post-workout meal to within 45 mins of your training.

If you ate a normal sized meal a couple of hours before your workout = you’ve got 1-2 hours to maximize the benefits of a post-workout meal, and support your body’s ability to rebuild glycogen stores.

Source: Bigstock Workout woman

What To Drink After A Workout?

The biggest takeaway I can give you here is to keep thinking Hydration, Hydration, Hydration!

It’s super important to drink plenty of water before and after you exercise. (And during a workout, as needed.) Obviously, the more we sweat, the more water and electrolytes we lose.

If we can replenish these after a workout, then we’ll be doing the best we can to help ourselves with recovery and performance next time.  

Here are 3 ways to get the hydration you need:
1)    Water: whether it’s plain or jazzed up with some lemon or lime is pure magic for our body. Aim for a minimum of 2 litres a day, and closer to 3 litres on the days you’re working out.
2)    Coconut water: is a fab natural source of BOTH water and electrolytes, including potassium, sodium, magnesium, phosphorous and calcium. So find yourself a good quality brand and drink away.
3)    Herbal Tea: if you like drinking tea instead of plain or coconut water, then here’s a cool tip – the nutrients and chemical compounds found in herbal teas, particularly yerba mate, may help us process carbs and protein more effectively.

A 2016 study* that compared the effects of yerba mate to water, after exercise, showed that the participants who drank yerba mater recovered strength more quickly in the 24 hours after working out.