What to Eat After a Workout to Build Muscle?

After hitting the gym, it's important to know what foods to eat after a workout to build muscle. The best post workout meal for muscle gain should include both protein and carbohydrates. Finding the right nutritional balance will help repair and build muscles.

Focus on a healthy diet in order to help build muscles. (Image: Anikona/iStock/GettyImages)

Tip

Eat 0.25 - 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight with a source of carbohydrate after a workout.

How Protein Helps Build Muscle

Protein helps grow and develop nearly every cell in the body, including muscle, skin and bone. In fact, every cell in the body has anywhere from 1 billion to 3 billion proteins. According to the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI), eating at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day will help support the body's protein needs.

However, if you're looking to build more muscle than what you currently have, you may need to eat more protein than the DRI recommends. By consuming more than the minimum requirement, the body is put into a state of anabolism — or growth. This means that the body has enough energy and nutrients to build larger muscle.

Measuring Protein After a Workout

When choosing which foods to eat after a workout to build muscle, the amount of protein consumed in one sitting matters. In a September 2015 review published in Frontiers in Physiology, researchers found that 0.25 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is enough to trigger muscle growth. For a 150-pound person, this is 17 grams of protein.

After rounding up, many people assume that 20 grams of protein after a workout is adequate. However, researchers stress the importance of dosing your protein based on your body weight, especially since eating more protein after a workout may not necessarily benefit you.

In fact, a January 2015 study published in The Journals of Gerontology found that more than 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight does not create additional benefits of muscle protein growth. The range of 0.25 to 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of weight may also be dependent on individual differences like age and training status.

Carbohydrates Help with Weight Gain

To build muscle, your body must be in a state of anabolism. In other words, you need to eat more than you burn off to see muscle growth and healthy weight gain. You can increase total calories and be in a state of anabolism by adding carbohydrates to your post workout meal. Carbohydrates also restore energy to your muscles to prepare for exercise the next day.

Therefore, the best post workout meal for muscle gain — as well as to replenish energy and sustain daily performance — should include both carbohydrates and protein. After all, true muscle growth won't occur in just one day. Instead, you should focus on consistent training and diet day after day.

For those trying to minimize weight gain, it's still possible to build muscle without adding carbs. A July 2015 review published in the European Journal of Endocrinology concluded that the level of insulin needed to trigger muscle growth can be accomplished by exercise alone. Meaning, the addition of carbohydrates isn't necessary to build muscle post workout, but it still helps with overall recovery and weight gain.

Best Post Workout Meal

When considering what foods to eat after a workout to build muscle, aim for a minimum of 0.25 grams of protein per kilogram of weight combined with some carbohydrate. The best post workout meal for muscle gain could come from whole foods, supplemental nutrition — such as protein powders, bars and meal replacements — or a mix.

While there is a limitless number of great post workout meals to make, consider these popular combinations: 20 ounces of chocolate milk, a three-ounce piece of chicken and one cup of rice. Or, whip up a smoothie with a half cup of Greek yogurt, one cup of milk and one cup of frozen berries.

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