Felicia Newell, RD, MSc
After a workout, the focus should be on refueling and recovery. Your body uses stored energy (glycogen) in your muscles to power through your workout, but after that you need to replenish those nutrients lost.
After an intense resistance training workout, your muscle will have been forced to tear and break down (a good thing), and adequate nutrition (mainly total protein and carbs), will help build and grow new muscle tissue.
Focus on getting carbs and protein into your body. This gives your muscles the ability to replenish the glycogen which is lost through training and helps your muscles rebuild and repair with the available protein and amino acids.
For best results after intense strength/resistance training, you want something quick absorbing within approximately 20 minutes to one hour. This isn't 100% necessary if you don't have the time or means but will quickly replenish lost glycogen and could improve muscle growth and recovery. Then aim for a balanced combination of protein and carbs within an hour or two.
There is emerging research demonstrating that consuming a quick absorbing protein and carb within the one-hour post workout "anabolic window" isn't as essential as once thought. What's more important is getting in enough total daily protein and carbs for fuel and muscle repair/growth. If you can get something quick absorbing within one hour - cool! If not, don't think it's going to significantly hurt your progress.
Total grams of daily protein and carbs required for optimal muscle growth and recovery depends on several factors, including how intense your workout is, your age, height, weight, goals, among others.
As a general rule, use a validated equation (such as the Harris Benedict equation) to calculate your daily calorie needs.
Aim for a slight 20% deficit from daily calorie needs for fat loss; aim for 10% surplus for mass gain.
For optimal muscle growth and recovery, protein should be around 25-30% of daily calorie needs, and carbs should be around 40-45% of daily calorie needs.
Use a tracking app such as MyFitnessPal to ensure that your daily calorie, protein, and carb goals are met for optimal performance, muscle growth and fat loss.
Post-workout Fuel Suggestions
20 minutes to 1 hour window after your workout/training session:
Post-workout recovery smoothie with fruit and Greek yogurt or protein powder (water or milk for liquid)
Low-sugar chocolate milk or any flavour protein drink that has some carbs
Banana with nut butter
1 hour or more after your workout/training session:
1 serving of turkey or chicken (or cheese, or beans/peas/lentils) on a whole grain, or sprouted grain wrap (or in a pita) with veggies such as spinach and peppers
Oatmeal with milk of choice, fruit and nuts or seeds
1 serving of chicken (or beef, tofu, etc.) with complex carb (e.g., quinoa, brown rice or potato with skin) and veggie (e.g., sautéed or steamed green beans or spinach)
Omelette with veggies of choice (e.g., spinach and peppers), 1/2 avocado on top, and ½ cup roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes on the side
Or a smaller snack with protein, carbs, and healthy fats, depending on the overall timing of your training and meals, such as:
¾ to 1 cup Greek yogurt with ½ cup berries) & 1-2 tbsp unsalted nuts, seeds (e.g., flax), or oats
Apple or banana and peanut or almond butter
1-2 tbsp unsalted nuts and 2-4 tbsp raisins or other dried fruit (two parts raisins: one-part nuts)
1 serving of crackers with 1 serving of cheese
*Smaller/shorter, less active individuals may do better with smaller portion sizes, while larger/taller and more active individuals may require larger portion sizes.
For Longer Duration Exercise
Carbohydrate ingestion during longer periods of exercise (‘intra-workout’) has frequently been found to result in significantly faster performance, greater power output better maintenance of blood glucose.
Doses of 30-70 grams of carbs per hour is recommended. Intra-workout carb intake is not necessary during brief exercise (<45 minutes). However, for high intensity exercise lasting 45 to 75 minutes or more that is sustained, small amounts of easily digested carbohydrate (such as with sports drinks and sports gels) is recommended.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend the following:
A carbohydrate target of 30-60 g/h during endurance exercise including “stop and start” sports of one to 2.5 hours in duration.
A carbohydrate target of up to 90 g/h during ultra-endurance exercise greater than 2.5 to 3 hours.
A variety of foods and specialized sports products in either liquid or solid forms can be useful for intra-workout fuel. Examples include:
Fresh or dried fruit (e.g., raisins or dates)
100 fruit squeeze packs
Gatorade/Powerade (not the lower calorie version for intra-workout fuel)
Protein bar with carbs
Individuals should identify a plan that best meets their individual needs for hydration, fuel and gastrointestinal comfort.