A Whole Foods Approach to Sports Nutrition: What to Eat After a Workout

When I was twelve years old I made my friend Kim drink protein smoothies with me. Do you remember that Kim? I’m pretty sure you only drank them because you were scared of me. Anyhow, Kim and I drank the smoothies with added protein powder because I believed it would make us stronger, fitter, and healthier.  Sure, the protein powder didn’t really taste good, but we really wanted 6 pack abs (or maybe that was just me?)

Today, eighteen years later Registered Dietitian Heather spends her days convincing people that you do not need to add protein powder to your smoothies. You do not need to add protein powder to anything. Yes, protein is super important for building muscle after your workout, but ingesting it in the powder form versus the food form has no advantage.

So what should you eat after your workout? Just as with the pre-workout meal, you want to eat a combination of protein (for muscle recovery and building) and carbs (to replete glycogen stores). Aim to get at least 20 grams of protein within one hour of your workout (this is when your muscles are the most metabolically active and can best use that protein for muscle synthesis). For a larger athlete, 30 grams of protein may be ideal, but amounts much higher than this can not be absorbed by the body at one time.

If it’s not meal time after your workout try one of these high protein snacks…

  • 1 cup of cottage cheese with berries or pineapple
  • 2 eggs on whole grain toast with a slice of cheese and tomatoes
  • Smoothie made with greek yogurt, frozen fruit, and spinach
  • 3-4 ounces of tuna or chicken (fresh or canned) with 5-8 whole grain crackers

If you find that you’re gaining weight, despite exercising more, it may be because you are over compensating with your post-workout meal. Keep in mind that 1 hour of intense exercise can result in a 400-600 calorie burn (depending on your size, type of exercise, etc). Also keep in mind that 2 slices of pizza has roughly 500 calories. A post workout snack should be no more than 250 calories and a meal no more than 600 (unless your goal is to gain weight). For females, its unlikely that you would gain more than a pound of muscle mass in six months. Males can gain considerably more muscle, so its important to measure your success not just by the number on the scale.

In conclusion 1) protein powders are not a magical recovery drink  2) 20-30 grams of protein within 1 hour post workout will help your body the best 3) Be mindful of your caloric intake if your goal is to lose weight. And last but not least, you should actually enjoy the food you are eating.

5 thoughts on “A Whole Foods Approach to Sports Nutrition: What to Eat After a Workout

  1. Ugh heath I’m so guilty! I love a good protein shake! It’s just such a fast meal and I feel like it has everything jam
    packed in it that is good for me! My go to favorite is chocolate protein powder, frozen banana, almond milk and a scoop of natural PB. Can you do a post on good smoothies with no powder pleeease. And that stuff is $$$$ so I’d rather not buy it anyway!

  2. hahaha, thats okay Heather. I appreciate your honesty. Definitely I’m not trying to make people feel guilty for using powder, I just want you to understand its not the only option! And why don’t you just try making the same smoothie without the powder? You can use cocoa powder for chocolate flavor. If you want to add more protein you could add hemp hearts, almonds (if you have a high powered blender), chia seeds, or soy milk instead of almond. But I think it would be good without those extras too. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  3. I’m also guilty of using protein powder! I try not to when I workout at home, but when I’m on the go I always take one. I’m definitely aware that protein is as good (if not better) when getting it from more natural foods – but it’s just sooo easy! But you’re right – it’s a great post and has really got me thinking about it again – and all that extra money that could be saved (cos I usually eat a meal too 😀 )
    Dave recently posted…14 Vegetarian and Vegan Snack Ideas – Creative, Nutritious, Scrumptious!My Profile

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