A woman smiling after finishing a home workout. She is sweaty and wearing a red tank top.

What to Eat After a Workout to Maximize Your Results

Fuel up and feel your best with these nourishing post-workout meals and snacks.

By Stephanie EckelkampSeptember 8, 2023


After finishing a tough workout, you might start thinking about what's on the docket next, from cool-down exercises to hopping in the shower. But there’s something else you might want to add to your post-exercise checklist: fueling up with a nutritious snack or meal.

Not everyone needs to eat right after getting active, but depending on the duration and intensity of your sweat session, good post-workout nutrition can make all the difference in supporting recovery and helping you reach your fitness goals faster. But what exactly should you eat after working out, and when should you chow down?

Below, learn what happens to your body during a workout and how eating the right foods afterward can help support muscle gains, curb inflammation, influence endurance during your next workout, and more. 

Why Should You Eat After a Tough Workout?

Eating after a workout could be the missing link to maximizing your training. “A solid recovery nutrition plan helps to prevent injuries and allows the body to rebuild itself after the stress of exercise,” says Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics. To understand why post-workout meals or snacks can help, let’s first take a look at what’s happening in your body during and after exercise.

In order to power through that run, cycling session, or HIIT workout, your muscles must generate energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—and to generate ATP, your muscle cells need a source of fuel. In the early stages of exercise, muscles suck up the glucose circulating in your bloodstream from any recent carbs you ate, then convert this glucose into ATP. (This is actually why a brisk, post-dinner walk is a great strategy for curbing blood sugar spikes.) 

As exercise continues or becomes more intense, this circulating blood glucose is insufficient for powering physical activity. As a result, your body taps into its fuel stores: glycogen (the stored form of glucose in the liver and muscles) and fat. 

Because the human body contains a relatively large amount of fat, you’re at no risk of depleting your fat stores after a workout. However, depending on the intensity or length of your workout, you will deplete varying amounts of glycogen. (For example, a 60-minute run will deplete significantly more glycogen than a 30-minute walk.) You might also burn through glycogen stores more quickly if you work out in a fasted state. That’s where eating after a workout comes into play. 

Here are a few benefits that can come from a post-workout meal or snack:

Better Recovery

“Post-exercise fuel that contains carbohydrates can stabilize blood sugars and restock liver and muscle glycogen for the next workout,” McDaniel explains. “This is especially critical if you’re doing two workouts in one day.”

Less Muscle Fatigue 

Research suggests that the depletion of muscle glycogen during an initial bout of prolonged exercise is one of the key reasons people experience muscle fatigue—and so, replenishing this glycogen with proper post-workout carb intake can help restore muscle function and endurance capacity for your next sweat session.

Stronger Muscles

When you exercise, you’re putting wear and tear on your muscles, particularly during intense exercise such as strength or resistance training. Then, during the post-exercise recovery period, your body repairs this damage with a process called muscle protein synthesis (MPS). During MPS, amino acids are incorporated into skeletal muscle proteins, which builds and strengthens your muscles. Getting adequate rest and eating enough protein are both key for this process. “High-quality protein foods provide amino acids essential to repair muscle tissue after strenuous exercise,” McDaniel explains. 

Less Inflammation

Your body can experience varying degrees of inflammation after a workout. Keep in mind, not all inflammation is bad. In fact, the short-term inflammation triggered by a bout of exercise is important for kickstarting muscular repair processes and promoting long-term beneficial adaptations to training—and over time, regular physical activity has an anti-inflammatory effect. 

However, some research says that certain types of physical activity may be more likely to ramp up inflammation than others—particularly intense, long-lasting exercise without enough rest. Curbing unhealthy exercise-induced inflammation mostly comes down to knowing your limits and allowing time for appropriate rest, but your diet can help, too. In addition to following a balanced, minimally processed diet, some specific foods (like tart cherry juice or extract or omega-3 fats) may help with inflammation, but these don’t necessarily have to be consumed in the immediate post-exercise period.

All that said, while there are plenty of benefits of eating after a workout, it isn’t always absolutely necessary to fuel up after every single exercise session. 

When Should You Eat After a Workout, and When Isn’t It Necessary?

Post-workout recovery snacks and meals aren’t necessary for everyone. The length, intensity, and type of workout will dictate whether you should quickly refuel and how much. 

If you’re engaging in lower intensity exercise—such as a 30-minute walk or bike ride, a 45-minute aerobics or Pilates class, or jogging a few times a week—then you probably don’t need to switch up your eating habits. For people doing brief or occasional workouts, “eating a balanced meal at the next meal time is adequate,” McDaniel says. 

On the other hand, if you’re engaging in more strenuous sweat sessions—say, you’re doing an exhaustive strength-training session, running hard for 60-plus minutes, training for a marathon, training for a century ride (a bicycle ride of 100 miles), or doing twice-a-day workouts—then eating shortly after workouts becomes more important, McDaniel notes. This is particularly true for people wanting to add muscle mass and for busy, active individuals who tend to have a harder time meeting their overall calorie needs for the day, she adds.  

What to Eat After a Workout

So what, exactly, should you eat after a workout? First, remember that general healthy eating habits don’t go out the window after exercise. Aim to eat a balanced meal or snack containing a combo of complex carbs, protein, and healthy fats. Many studies have tested various carb-to-protein ratios after workouts, but instead of stressing over proportions, simply aim for a mix of these macros, then tune into how your body feels and performs during future workouts.

Below, learn a bit more about the importance of carbs, proteins, and fats for post-workout recovery—and keep reading for specific meal and snack ideas. 


As mentioned above, carbohydrates can help replenish those depleted glycogen stores so you’re ready to tackle your next intense workout with gusto. Generally, your best bet is going to be minimally processed, complex carbohydrates, which are digested slower; less likely to spike blood sugar; and contain more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than refined carbohydrates and added sugars. 

Good post-workout carbohydrate sources include:

  • Oatmeal

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Various types of fruit (such as bananas, mango, or apples)

  • Whole wheat or whole grain varieties of bread, sandwich wraps, English muffins, pastas, and pretzels


Protein-rich foods supply the body with amino acids, which enhance muscle repair and growth, particularly when you eat them after exercising. “The goal is to aim for 10-25 grams of high-quality protein in your post-recovery snack or meal,” McDaniel says. (Ingesting more than that at one time won’t do you much good, as research suggests that muscle protein synthesis is maximized at around 25-30 grams of protein.)

But don’t simply focus on protein after your workout—it’s even more important to ensure you’re hitting your overall daily protein requirements to stay healthy and support muscle recovery. While the amount of protein you need depends on your individual needs, the National Library of Medicine recommends that healthy adults intake protein for 10-35 percent of their total daily calories. (That means a person on a 2,000 calorie diet would eat about 100 grams of protein per day.)

Good post-workout protein sources include:

  • High-quality protein powder (look for ones with few ingredients and no added sugars, fillers, artificial sweeteners, or preservatives, per the Cleveland Clinic)

  • Eggs

  • Greek yogurt

  • Cottage cheese

  • Tuna salad

  • Lean meat

  • Fish

  • Nuts and nut butter

  • Seeds

  • Tofu

  • Dried edamame


Fat may not be as important in the post-workout period as carbs and protein, but this macronutrient can help you feel full, support stable energy levels, enhance absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and maintain cell membrane integrity—all of which are important for recovery, McDaniel notes. 

Omega-3 fats can also help curb inflammation, especially when consumed regularly. Some preliminary research even suggests that omega-3 intake may help improve post-workout recovery. Just keep in mind that you may not need to add a separate source of fat to your post-workout meal or snack, since some protein-rich foods contain fat already.

Good post-workout fat sources include:

  • Eggs

  • Salmon

  • Hemp seeds

  • Chia seeds

  • Flax seeds

  • Nuts and nut butters

  • Avocado

  • Extra virgin olive oil

For an added bonus after particularly strenuous workouts, you can also consider incorporating specific anti-inflammatory foods, such as tart cherries, wild blueberries, and turmeric, suggests registered dietitian Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN

Post-Workout Meal Timing

When you’re engaging in more intense exercise and want to maximize recovery, muscle gains, and future performance, there appears to be somewhat of a sweet spot for timing your post-workout meal or snack, sometimes called the anabolic window. “The golden window for recovery nutrition is within 30-45 minutes,” McDaniel says. “Muscle sensitivity is heightened after strenuous activity and muscles metabolize nutrients more efficiently within that time frame.”

For example, muscle cells have increased sensitivity to insulin for a period of time after you work out. This allows your muscles to more rapidly absorb glucose when you consume carbohydrates, supporting more rapid glycogen resynthesis. Muscles can also take up amino acids more efficiently during this post-exercise window, and consuming protein shortly after a workout has been shown to enhance muscle protein synthesis (aka strengthen and build your muscles).

However, that’s not to say your body lacks the ability to take up glucose and amino acids outside of this brief post-workout window—no one’s flipping an “off” switch, and some research suggests that these processes still remain somewhat enhanced even three hours or longer after exercise.

And remember, if you’re engaging in lower intensity exercise lasting an hour or less, there’s no need to stress over your post-workout eating habits. Having a balanced meal or snack within a few hours, or whenever you get hungry, is perfectly fine. 

Post-Workout Snack Ideas

Ready to fuel up, but not sure what to eat after a workout? The following snacks contain a combination of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats to support workout recovery and overall health. Consider one of these snack ideas after you’ve done a low- to moderate-intensity workout lasting less than 60 minutes:

  • Banana with nut butter

  • Sliced apple with an ounce of cheese

  • Piece of fruit with one or two hard boiled eggs

  • Dried fruit and a small handful of nuts 

  • Carrot slices, whole wheat pita, and hummus

  • DIY trail mix with dried edamame, nuts, raisins, and dark chocolate 

  • Minimally processed protein bar (such as one that’s nut-based and low in sugar)

  • Bowl of high-fiber, low-sugar cereal with cow’s milk or soy milk (other plant-based milks are low in protein)

  • Smoothie made with 1 cup milk or plant-based milk, 1 cup fruit, and a scoop of protein powder (optional: add a handful of mild greens, like baby spinach)

Post-Workout Meal Ideas 

Consider one of these post-workout meals if you’ve just completed a long or intense workout—or if your workout was a bit lighter, but it’s been several hours since your last meal or snack:

  • Oatmeal with ground flaxseed, milk, fruit, and chopped nuts or nut butter

  • Plain Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with berries, granola, and almond slivers

  • A veggie omelet cooked with olive oil and a slice of whole-wheat toast

  • Small whole-wheat wrap with eggs, cheese, and arugula

  • Brown rice or quinoa with roasted veggies and a serving of meat, fish, or egg, plus avocado or tahini for a source of healthy fat

  • Tuna or chicken salad (with mayo or olive oil), whole grain crackers, and veggie slices

  • English muffin pizza made with a whole-wheat English muffin, marinara or barbeque sauce, grilled chicken slices, and a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese

  • Whole-wheat pasta salad with cherry tomatoes, bell pepper, grilled chicken, and a vinaigrette dressing

  • Smoothie made with 1 cup milk or plant-based milk, ½ banana, ½ cup berries, 1 cup greens, 1 tablespoon nut butter, and 1 scoop protein powder 

What Not to Eat After a Workout

Try to stick to a balanced, healthy eating pattern after workouts. Avoid loading up on low-quality sources of carbs and protein (think: things made with loads of added sugars or refined carbs, like baked goods, or sketchy protein shakes with a laundry list of funky additives). 

It’s also not a bad idea to keep an eye on any post-workout smoothies. Ingredients like frozen yogurt, plant-based milk, and mix-ins like granola can come with added sugars that leave you at risk for energy crashes, mood swings, and poor appetite control later in the day, Cording says. (A good rule of thumb is aiming to cap the fruit content of your smoothies at around one cup.)

Don’t put all your focus on food either—hydrating after workouts is also key for recovery. For strenuous workouts, consider weighing yourself before and after to assess fluid loss via sweat, McDaniel suggests, and for every pound lost, aim to drink 20-24 ounces of fluids.

The Takeaway

Post-workout nutrition is particularly important after long-lasting or strenuous sweat sessions. Refueling with a snack or meal that contains a balance of carbs and protein, plus healthy fats, during the first 30-45 minutes after a workout can help replenish muscle glycogen stores and repair muscle tissue, which supports muscle gains and positively impacts performance during future workouts. Antioxidant-rich foods like berries might also help curb some of that post-workout soreness that can sap your motivation. Shorter, lower intensity forms of exercise, on the other hand, don’t require you to be as mindful with your post-workout food intake—simply eat a balanced meal or snack at your next meal time or when you get hungry.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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