Working out regularly provides a wide array of benefits for your body, including strengthening your heart, managing your cholesterol levels and boosting your immunity. However, physical activity also puts stress on your body, so you need to support your training with proper nutrition. Many foods can be beneficial when consumed after your workout, but you should note that the rest of your diet needs to be in order for optimal results.
Cereal and Skim Milk
Cereal and milk is a traditional breakfast combination, but research indicates that this meal can be beneficial for use after workouts. Cereal and milk offer a low-fat blend of protein and carbohydrates, which can support muscle recovery and energy. A study from the May 2009 issue of the "Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition" found that consuming skim milk and cereal after workouts produced muscle recovery rates comparable to that of commercial sports nutrition beverages.
Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein powder is a food supplement made from dairy products. Whey protein powder is high in protein, which offers the amino acid your body needs to build muscle. If you are working out to lose weight, whey protein may be a better protein source than meat and fish; a study from the October 2010 issue of the "British Journal of Nutrition" found whey protein powder to suppress appetite to a greater degree than fish, eggs or meat.
Nutrition researcher Dr. John Berardi explains that prioritizing carbohydrate intake over protein during your post-workout meals can optimize recovery, so black beans are a good post-workout choice. One 1/2 cup serving of black beans contains 100 calories, with 19 g of carbohydrates, 6 g of protein and just 0.5 g fat.
If you are looking for a convenient post-workout food that requires no special preparation, try whole milk. Whole milk offers protein and carbohydrates for recovery and unlike skim milk, contains fat, which can help you feel full. In addition, a study from the April 2006 issue of the journal "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise" found that whole milk offered superior rates of amino acid uptake to skim milk; this can provide superior muscle recovery.
Protein bars can be convenient post-workout snacks, as you can carry them with you to the gym and eat them immediately after your exercise session. Protein bars offer a blend of protein, carbohydrates and fat, but the ratios and calorie content vary widely, so check nutrition facts closely if you are counting calories.
Sandwiches can be a beneficial post-workout meal because they provide carbohydrates from the bread and protein from the meat filling. Sandwiches may be preferable to pre-made meals because you can control the calorie content and nutritional ratio by choosing different meats and bread.
Fruit-Flavored Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is higher in protein than traditional yogurt, which makes it beneficial for post-workout recovery. Although plain Greek yogurt is low in carbohydrates, fruit-flavored Greek yogurt varieties provide more carbohydrates than protein, which can aid in workout recovery.
Consuming spaghetti can be beneficial both before and after exercise, as it is rich in carbohydrates, your body's primary source of energy. In addition, spaghetti is easy to prepare and offers close to a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, which Running Times magazine suggests may be optimal for recovery after endurance workouts. If you wish to increase the protein content of your meal, top your spaghetti with chicken, beef or shrimp.
Taco shells are rich in carbohydrates, while fillings such as chicken, beef and beans offer protein to support muscle recovery. If you make your tacos at home rather than eating in a restaurant, you can carefully control the nutritional profile.
Chicken and Rice
Chicken and rice are both low-fat foods that are relatively inexpensive and can be prepared quickly. If you exercise often and have high calorie needs, chicken and rice can be beneficial, as they can be cooked in volume and tend to keep well over time. Chicken is protein-rich, while rice offers carbohydrates, making the combination effective for post-workout consumption.
- "Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition"; Cereal and Nonfat Milk Support Muscle Recovery Following Exercise; L. Kammer et al.; May 2009
- "British Journal of Nutrition"; The Acute Effects of Four Protein Meals on Insulin, Glucose, Appetite and Energy Intake in Lean Men; S. Pal, V. Ellis; Oct 2010
- JohnBerardi.com: The Importance of Post Workout Nutrition; Dr. John M. Berardi, PhD; April 2002
- LIVESTRONG.COM MyPlate: Calories in Black Beans (Ranch Style)
- "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise"; Milk Ingestion Stimulates Net Muscle Protein Synthesis Following Resistance Exercise; T.A. Elliot et al.; April 2006