Besides satiating one’s hunger that invariably strikes after an intense workout session, a post-workout meal should also satisfy the body’s craving for nutrients like protein, carbs and fat. The meal should be balanced, which can help replenish one’s energy reserves.
“A post-workout meal helps you recover and replenish your fuel or energy reserve,” says Mihira Khopkar, sports nutritionist, rehabilitation and sports medicine, Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai. “If you had a heavy strength training session targeting most of the muscle groups, you will probably need more carbohydrates and protein post your session. On the contrary, if you have done a 30-minute yoga session or a long run, your protein and carbohydrate requirements will be different. These are the basics that one needs to understand before planning a post-workout meal.”
Post-workout meal: Timing is essential
A post-workout meal should be consumed shortly after exercising and must not be delayed beyond three hours after the workout session.
“Time is a very important factor when considering the post-workout meal, and the body mustn’t go into a catabolic state [a metabolic process where the food is digested and the large molecules are broken down for energy],” says Safiya Arfain K, clinical nutritionist and dietitian as well as sports nutritionist and diabetes educator, Bangalore. “Preferably, it would be best to have the post-workout meal before three hours; that would be the maximum limit to extend it. You can have it immediately after your workout, but do not delay it beyond three to four hours, as that could magnify the catabolic state.”
Purpose of a post-workout meal or snack
“A post-workout meal serves three major purposes: replenishing the glycogen reserves, repairing the muscles damaged during the workout and rehydration,” says Arfain.
Khopkar adds, “Whether you are someone who works out in the morning and then spends the day at the office or an individual who spends the day at work and then trains, a post-workout meal is very important.”
The purposes of a post-workout meal include:
♦ Muscle recovery: After a serious workout, your muscles experience microtears. A balanced and optimal post-workout meal provides the necessary nutrients, especially carbohydrates, to repair, rebuild and replenish your muscles.
♦ Glycogen replenishment: Exercise strips away the body’s glycogen reserves, which serve as the primary source of energy during physical activity. “Carbohydrates are crucial, as your body will use them as a source of fuel or energy for most activities, including a strength training session or a high-intensity interval training session. Hence, you might want to compensate for this loss by consuming carbohydrates. The quantity of carbohydrate intake will keep changing depending on what your activity looks like,” says Khopkar. Including carbohydrates in your post-workout meal helps restore these glycogen reserves, ensuring you have energy for future workouts.
♦ Protein synthesis: “Whenever you train, there’s obvious damage to the muscle fibers in a good way, which is going to help you gain muscle mass later in the recovery phase. You’d want to ensure that those muscle fibers get repaired and grow. Having protein-rich foods is going to ensure that the muscle fibers get repaired,” says Khopkar.
♦ Hydration: Rehydrating after exercise is crucial, as you lose fluids through sweating. Drinking a sufficient amount of water, along with the necessary electrolytes, helps maintain proper hydration levels.
♦ Overall recovery: “You would want to refuel and recover because you will probably be tired, and your muscles might feel very sore. In such situations, a post-workout meal would help you tremendously,” says Khopkar. Your post-workout meal should contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that aid overall recovery, provide immune support and reduce inflammation.
♦ Satiety: A post-workout meal has the potential to help you feel full, which in turn prevents overeating later in the day.
Essentials of a post-workout meal
An optimal post-workout meal should include the following:
♦ Protein: Consuming roughly 20–25 grams of protein post-exercise is the sweet spot for most fitness enthusiasts. Sources of protein can include lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy or plant-based options like tofu and legumes.
♦ Carbohydrates: Fast-absorbing carbohydrates help replenish the glycogen reserves, especially after intense workouts. Research indicates that consuming high amounts of carbohydrates (≥ 1.2 g/kg/h) within four to six hours of an exhausting workout session can rapidly stimulate the replenishment of muscle glycogen. “We usually recommend consuming protein and carbohydrates 45 to 60 minutes after your training. In addition, we suggest having fast-absorbing carbohydrates that have a high glycemic index,” says Khopkar.
♦ Fluids: While water is usually the go-to option for rehydration, intense or prolonged workout sessions take a toll on your electrolytes. Hence, a sports drink with electrolytes may be a smart option.
- A post-workout meal is what you consume shortly after exercising, and timing is very important so that the body does not go into a catabolic state.
- A meal after a workout serves three major purposes: replenishing the glycogen reserves, repairing the muscles damaged while exercising and rehydration. It also ensures you have energy throughout the day.
- A well-balanced post-workout meal should consist of the right amounts of carbs and protein. In addition, it is essential to rehydrate as you lose fluids through sweating.