Whether your goal is to lose fat, build speed, get healthy, or gain performance, your post-workout food is crucial to helping you reach your potential. While everyone has their opinions, there is one solid, unchanging truth about post-workout food that applies to everyone:
Optimal post-workout food is different for everyone.
Profound, I know. We are all cocktails of varying genetic and ethnic backgrounds, and we’ve each experienced individual upbringings. This means we are all incredibly different due to our hereditary, and the diet, lifestyle, and stress load we were exposed to growing up. So, just as people respond differently to specific workouts or programming, everyone responds differently to specific foods and macronutrient ratios when it comes to post-workout food.
Post-Workout Foods: Where to Start
To figure out what works best for you, it’s best to follow general solid, guidelines while leaving room for experimentation.
Your post-workout food should consist of protein, carbohydrate and smaller amounts of fat based on the volume and intensity of your workout and your goals. In general, the higher the volume and intensity of the workout, the greater the need for carbohydrate, and the more important your post-workout food becomes to optimal recovery.
Replenish with protein after workouts that focus on muscle building (lifting), and carbohydrate after workouts that focus on endurance activity. If your goal is to lose body fat, you’ll want to include less carbohydrate post-workout. If your goal is to gain performance, you’ll want to include a higher ratio of carbohydrate.
Also, if you have performance goals, consuming a post-workout meal within 30 minutes of completing a workout is ideal for appropriate muscle replenishment and recovery.
I am a big fan of consuming real, whole post-workout food over supplemental protein shakes or bars. Most protein shakes and bars are made of isolated fractions of horrendously low quality protein and synthetic vitamins and minerals. They also usually contain added preservatives, stabilizers, and artificial sweeteners.
As Amy Kabul points out, protein powders are not regulated for purity or content, and popular brands were even found to have concerning amounts of arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium. Awww hell no. Even if you do get your isolated fractions of protein from a high-quality source, because it is a pre-digested food, it causes a spike in blood glucose and insulin, decreasing overall insulin sensitivity and making it especially hard to lean out.
I do understand the convenience of protein shakes, especially for athletes doing multiple workouts in a day or for those who have a hard time putting on weight. So, if protein powder concoctions work for you and your goals, try to go with a grass-fed whey protein powder or protein bar that doesn’t contain any synthetic sweeteners or additives labeled as “natural flavors.” Try out whole food sources first and see how well they work for you in comparison to powdered foods.
If you don’t replace the water lost during your activity, you’re ultimately hindering the overall operation and recovery of your body. In fact, exercise performance is impaired when an individual is dehydrated by as little as 2% of body weight. Without proper rehydration post-workout, your body can’t synthesize your post-workout food. As a result, the repair of muscle and tissue damage is stunted. As a general guideline, try to drink around 20-30 oz of water per hour of activity depending on the temperature and your sweat rate.
Now, let’s get on with the post-workout food experimentation.
20 Post-Workout Food Options
1. Sweet Potato or Squash: Pre-cook baked sweet potatoes in large batches in the oven, slow cooker or pressure cooker, or dice up squashes like pumpkin or butternut squash and roast in the oven. Both taste great when eaten chilled and topped with a little cinnamon.
2. Vegetables: Toss raw vegetables like carrots, broccoli, or pepper slices in olive oil, salt and pepper, or sauté a variety of vegetables like kale, spinach, and mushrooms ahead of time to serve on top a protein source.
5. Smoothies: Make a smoothie using coconut milk, pumpkin or sweet potato, coconut oil, berries and/or nut butter for a post-workout source of both carbohydrate and fat.
6. Applesauce: Make your own apple sauce “mash” in large batches and separate into travel-friendly jars so they’re easy to grab when you need them.
7. Fruit: Easy go-to fruits include pre-washed fresh strawberries or raspberries, watermelon, apples, peaches, and bananas depending on the season. These should be utilized second to starchy carbohydrates like sweet potatoes as fruit is high in fructose which metabolizes differently in the body.
8. Homemade Bars: Make your own homemade bars with ingredients like sweet potatoes and eggs for a post-workout source of both carbohydrates, protein and fats.
9. Meat: Pre-cook a variety of meats like chicken or steak and cut into strips, or make meatballs, patties, or sausages from ground beef or pork so they’re easy to grab when you need them.
10. Hard Boiled Eggs: Cook large batches of hard-boiled eggs and section throughout the week accordingly. If you pack your post-workout meal the night before, peel the eggs ahead of time so they’re ready to eat and “less messy” when you’re at work or the gym.
11. Canned Tuna or Salmon: Get wild-caught tuna or salmon packed in water (without added soy or preservatives) for an easy protein that doesn’t need refrigeration. Mix with guacamole or avocado to give it extra flavor.
12. Shrimp or Fish: Pre-cook large batches of shrimp or fish like cod and salmon. Remove the tails (shrimp) or skin (fish) so they are easy to take with you and eat post-workout.
13. Coconut Oil: Add coconut oil to sweet potato or squashes, or add into smoothies.
14. Nut Butters: Nut butters like almond butter can be added to smoothies or sweet potatoes, or used as a dip for raw vegetables like carrots.
15. Coconut Milk: Drink strait, add into smoothies, or top on top of berries or fruit.
16. Avocado: Cut open and eat solo with a spoon, or add slices on top of meat.
17. Guacamole: Use guacamole as a dip for meats, raw vegetables or mix with canned tuna or salmon.
18. Homemade Nut Mix: Make your own nut mixes using raw nuts, dried unsweetened fruits, and coconut flakes. Note: Nuts should be utilized second to other fast burning fats like coconut.
19. Coconut Water: Coconut water is the liquid extracted from young, green coconuts that contains vitamins, electrolytes, amino acids, enzymes, antioxidants, and the obvious – water. Coconut water is the richest source of naturally occurring electrolytes like sodium and potassium that help our cells (nerve, heart and muscles) maintain impulses that are responsible for important things like muscle contractions. For this reason, coconut water is great during longer workouts (diluted with water) or post-workout after you’ve lost a significant amount of sweat. Known as nature’s gatorade, coconut water is superior to conventional sports drinks that contain synthetic vitamins, minerals and processed sugar. Make sure to purchase coconut water without added sugars or preservatives.
20. Homemade Sports Drink: You can easily make your own homemade sports drink with lemon and/or lime juice, honey, unprocessed sea salt, and filtered water. In similar fashion to coconut water, homemade sports drinks will help you replace the water and electrolytes lost without additives or processed sugars.
Post-Workout Foods on the Go
While not ideal, there’s always the need to have post-workout food ready to go when you’re short on prep time. Below are pre-packaged foods I personally utilize when necessary. (Note: The items below may not be the highest quality possible due to the fact that they are pre-packed. Make sure to check labels if you have any allergies to nuts, soy, etc.)
What are your favorite post-workout foods? Share your experiences below!
Keepin’ it human,