Post-Workout Meal: The New Most Important Meal of the Day
Forget breakfast. The post-workout meal is hands down the most important meal of the day. Give your body the right nutrients after training and you will gain more muscle and burn more fat.
The post-workout meal is a simple nutrition tactic with a huge benefit. Yet most people don’t know how to take advantage of it!
It’s super low hanging fruit, in other words – easy gains. If that sounds good, then this article is for you.
The term post-workout may seem self-explanatory. But it could mean different things to different people. So let’s start by defining what it means as it relates to bodybuilding nutrition.
What Does Post-Workout Mean?
Post-workout refers to a window of time after a resistance training workout. Proper nutrition during this window has a significant effect on muscle gain.
Post-Workout MeaningThe 45-minute window immediately following a workout when nutrition is critical for muscle recovery and growth.
The first 45 minutes following a workout is the most critical time. In addition, proper nutrition for several hours thereafter will further enhance muscle growth.
But don’t take my word for it; there’s science behind the timing.
Importance of the Post-Workout Meal
What makes the post-workout meal so important is its effect on net protein balance. When you workout protein gets broken down. But to build bigger muscles your body must create more protein than it breaks down. That’s called a positive protein balance.
Studies show that consuming protein and carbohydrates post-workout significantly increases protein synthesis. As a result, your body makes more protein than it breaks down. Which means extra protein to rebuild muscles bigger and stronger.
Effect of Post-Workout Meal on Protein Dynamics: Consuming carbs and protein immediately following a workout results in a positive net protein balance. (adapted from Levenhagen et al.)
The protein balance is negative when there are no nutrients or when they’re consumed too late. A negative protein balance means muscles won’t grow!
So this one critical meal can mean the difference between gaining or losing muscle. I’d say that’s more important than breakfast, wouldn’t you?
Recommended Reading: Nutrient Timing: The Future of Sports Nutrition
Post-Workout Meal Examples
As illustrated above, the most critical time to get key nutrients is right after a workout. For that reason, I recommend post-workout shakes. They’re convenient and the nutrients get digested fast.
If you don’t have the ingredients for a shake you can also use grab and go post-workout snacks. These are foods you can carry with you to the gym.
Finally, I’ve included examples of full post-workout meals. These you can make at home for continued muscle growth several hours post-workout.
Post-Workout Shake Examples
The most important ingredients in a post-workout shake are protein and carbs. The key is to use fast digesting protein along with high glycemic carbs. So I combine whey isolate protein with various types of sugary carbs.
- Maltodextrin + flavored whey
- Dextrose + flavored whey
- Fruit juice (orange, apple, grape, etc) + unflavored whey
- Raw honey + unflavored whey
- Chocolate or Caramel Syrup + unflavored or flavored whey
Some of these combinations may sound gross. Like protein powder and apple juice? – Barf!
That’s what I thought, too. But I’ve tried them all and I assure you they’re good… or at least good enough to gulp down in the name of gains.
Why not use a weight gainer protein?
Many brands offer “weight gainer” supplements which have both carbs and protein. I’ve used several of these one-stop-shop post-workout shakes over the years (is hyphen alliteration a thing?).
Weight gainers are convenient and definitely better than nothing after a workout. But often they’re loaded with sodium. As well as other not so good ingredients that make you gain unwanted water weight.
In other words, you get fluffy.
But, the effective ingredients in weight gainers are protein and maltodextrin (carbs). And those ingredients are much cheaper when bought separately in bulk.
So avoid the weight gainer and you’ll stay lean while keeping your wallet fat.
Tip: You can save even more by using unflavored protein powder. I use Whey Protein Isolate from Nutricost because it’s inexpensive and the only ingredient is whey isolate. Click the picture or link below to check it out on Amazon.
Post-Workout Snack Examples
If you don’t have all the ingredients to make a shake, you can use a post-workout snack instead. A snack should be food you can carry with you to the gym. So you can eat it immediately after your workout.
I still recommend having a whey protein shake with this snack. Since it’s difficult to find another source of fast digesting protein that you can carry.
- Rice cakes + whey
- Bagel + whey
- Fruit (banana, orange, apple) + whey
- Cereal + whey
- Pop Tarts + whey
Pop Tarts are a tasty way to mix it up but don’t go overboard. And steer clear when your goal is to get very lean.
Full Post-Workout Meal Examples
The muscle growth effects of post-workout nutrition can be extended for several hours after you’ve left the gym. You can do this by continuing to consume carbs and protein at about 90-minute intervals.
During this time it’s beneficial to eat whole meals containing protein and starchy carbs. As well as fibrous carbs (veggies) and healthy fats.
Here are a few examples of post-workout meals.
- Chicken + rice + broccoli + coconut oil
- Salmon + pasta + asparagus + olive oil
- Steak + potato + Brussels sprouts + butter
My strategy is to cook one large meal when I get home from the gym. Then I split that meal into two servings. The first serving is about 90 minutes after my workout. And the second serving is about 90 minutes after the first.
If you don’t have time to cook every day you can meal prep for the whole week. This approach takes more planning and preparation up front. But it makes it easier to stick to your plan for several days. That is if you don’t mind leftovers.
Article: Meal Prep Made Simple
Now you have plenty of ideas for post-workout meals. But how much should you eat? And how many grams of each macronutrient should you target?
Your Personalized Post-Workout Meal
When it comes to post-workout nutrition, calories and grams of macronutrients will vary. It depends on your goal and your body type.
Article: Which Body Type are You?
Nutritioneering provides personalized post-workout meal targets for macros and calories. Not only that, you get personalized targets for every meal and your targets get updated each week!
You choose your goal, body type, and workout schedule. And our meal plan generator creates your personalized plan. So you’ll know exactly what to eat and when to eat for muscle gain and fat loss.
About the Author:
Jeremy Fox – Founder of Nutritioneering, Engineer, CPT, Bodybuilder, Coach