After your workout, your body tries to rebuild its glycogen stores and repair and regrow those muscle proteins.
Eating the right nutrients soon after you exercise can help your body get this done faster. It is particularly important to eat carbs and protein after your workout.
Doing this helps your body:
Decrease muscle protein breakdown.
Increase muscle protein synthesis (growth).
Restore glycogen stores.
Getting in the right nutrients after exercise can help you rebuild your muscle proteins and glycogen stores. It also helps stimulate growth of new muscle.
Protein, Carbs and Fat
This section discusses how each macronutrient — protein, carbs and fat — is involved in your body's post-workout recovery process.
Protein Helps Repair and Build Muscle
As explained above, exercise triggers the breakdown of muscle protein.
The rate at which this happens depends on the exercise and your level of training, but even well-trained athletes experience muscle protein breakdown
Consuming an adequate amount of protein after a workout gives your body the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild these proteins. It also gives you the building blocks required to build new muscle tissue (1Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
It's recommended that you consume 0.14–0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight (0.3–0.5 grams/kg) very soon after a workout (1Trusted Source).
Studies have shown that ingesting 20–40 grams of protein seems to maximize the body's ability to recover after exercise (6Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source).
Carbs Help With Recovery
Your body's glycogen stores are used as fuel during exercise, and consuming carbs after your workout helps replenish them.
The rate at which your glycogen stores are used depends on the activity. For example, endurance sports cause your body to use more glycogen than resistance training.
For this reason, if you participate in endurance sports (running, swimming, etc.), you might need to consume more carbs than a bodybuilder.
Consuming 0.5–0.7 grams of carbs per pound (1.1–1.5 grams/kg) of body weight within 30 minutes after training results in proper glycogen resynthesis (1Trusted Source).
Furthermore, insulin secretion, which promotes glycogen synthesis, is better stimulated when carbs and protein are consumed at the same time (10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).
Therefore, consuming both carbs and protein after exercise can maximize protein and glycogen synthesis (13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source).
Try consuming the two in a ratio of 3:1 (carbs to protein). For example, 40 grams of protein and 120 grams of carbs (15Trusted Source, 16Trusted Source).
Eating plenty of carbs to rebuild glycogen stores is most important for people who exercise often, such as twice in the same day. If you have 1 or 2 days to rest between workouts then this becomes less important.
Fat Is Not That Bad
Many people think that eating fat after a workout slows down digestion and inhibits the absorption of nutrients.
While fat might slow down the absorption of your post-workout meal, it will not reduce its benefits.
For example, a study showed that whole milk was more effective at promoting muscle growth after a workout than skim milk (17Trusted Source).
Moreover, another study showed that even when ingesting a high-fat meal (45% energy from fat) after working out, muscle glycogen synthesis was not affected (18Trusted Source).
It might be a good idea to limit the amount of fat you eat after exercise, but having some fat in your post-workout meal will not affect your recovery.
A post-workout meal with both protein and carbs will enhance glycogen storage and muscle protein synthesis. Consuming a ratio of 3:1 (carbs to protein) is a practical way to achieve this.
The Timing of Your Post-Workout Meal Matters
Your body's ability to rebuild glycogen and protein is enhanced after you exercise (9Trusted Source).
For this reason, it's recommended that you consume a combination of carbs and protein as soon as possible after exercising.
Although the timing does not need to be exact, many experts recommend eating your post-workout meal within 45 minutes.
Foods to Eat After You Workout
The primary goal of your post-workout meal is to supply your body with the right nutrients for adequate recovery and to maximize the benefits of your workout.
Choosing easily digested foods will promote faster nutrient absorption.
The following lists contain examples of simple and easily digested foods:
Fruits (pineapple, berries, banana, kiwi)
Dark, leafy green vegetables
Animal- or plant-based protein powder
Trail mix (dried fruits and nuts)
Make Sure to Drink Plenty of Water
It is important to drink plenty of water before and after your workout.
When you are properly hydrated, this ensures the optimal internal environment for your body to maximize results.
During exercise, you lose water and electrolytes through sweat. Replenishing these after a workout can help with recovery and performance (21Trusted Source).
It's especially important to replenish fluids if your next exercise session is within 12 hours.
Depending on the intensity of your workout, water or an electrolyte drink are recommended to replenish fluid losses.
It is important to get water and electrolytes after exercise to replace what was lost during your workout.
Putting It All Together
Consuming a proper amount of carbs and protein after exercise is essential.
It will stimulate muscle protein synthesis, improve recovery and enhance performance during your next workout.
If you're not able to eat within 45 minutes of working out, it's important to not go much longer than 2 hours before eating a meal.
Finally, replenishing lost water and electrolytes can complete the picture and help you maximize the benefits of your workout.
Article courtesy healthline