What to eat after a workout
During exercise, your body uses up it’s energy stores, whilst muscle tissue also becomes damaged and breaks down. You will likely also lose water and electrolytes through sweat. Therefore, after exercise, it’s important to refill energy stores with sufficient carbohydrates, repair muscles by eating enough protein and rehydrating with water and fluids. Failure to do so may result in sore muscles, fatigue and under-performance in your next workout.
Post-workout carbohydrates (carbs) can be higher in fibre and slower in releasing energy, compared to before exercise when you need more quick energy releasing carbs (see post on what to eat before a workout). High fibre, slow-release carbs examples include wholewheat pasta, wholemeal bread, brown rice, oats or sweet potatoes/regular potatoes with the skin left on.
Post-workout sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, dairy/soya-alternatives or protein powder.
Fruits and vegetables are also beneficial after exercise as they contain antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties.
Post-workout meal examples include:
oats with milk and/or protein powder and fruit
eggs on wholemeal toast with a side of veg
rice/noodle stir fry with chicken/tofu
grilled chicken/tofu with rice and vegetables
fruit/veg smoothie with oats and yoghurt or protein powder
Average sweat loss during exercise can range from 0.5–2 litres per hour. Drinking plenty of water (+ a sports recovery drink where necessary) during longer sessions of exercise is also necessary for fluid replenishment.
When to eat
Although it's recommended to eat within an hour after weight training or as soon after a workout as possible, research indicates the anabolic window (the time frame to repair and build muscle) can last at least 24 hours. This means, if your next workout will be in 24hrs or longer, you do not need to rush to drink a protein shake or eat soon after your workout. It’s the quality of what you eat over the following 24 hours after your workout that’s important, i.e. enough protein and carbs.
The only exception is if you plan to train again within 8 hours - it is important to begin refuelling as soon as possible after each session.