Post-workout nutrition is essential for recovery and overall athletic performance. From replacing lost electrolytes and replenishing depleted energy stores to boosting muscle repair and recovery, what you eat and drink after a workout can make or break your results. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about post-workout nutrition —from why it’s important to what you should be eating— to maximize your gains and get the most out of your workouts.
Why is post workout nutrition important?
During a tough workout, certain physiological changes occur that impact your nutrition needs. Muscle fuel stores become depleted, and your body loses fluid and electrolytes in sweat. Tough workouts also damage muscle fibers, increase inflammation, and depress your immune system.
In this guide, we’ll dive deeper into what you should eat and drink after a workout. First though, it is important to understand the main physiological changes that happen when you exercise that make post-workout nutrition so essential.
Exercise depletes fuel, fluids, and electrolytes
During exercise, your body taps into its fuel and fluid reserves to power your muscles and movements, which can leave you feeling sluggish and slow your recovery.
The oxidation of fat and carbohydrate provides energy for contracting muscles. Fat is the primary energy source for low-intensity exercise, but as intensity increases, your body shifts to using more carbohydrates (glucose) for fuel. During your workout, your body taps into its glucose reserves (also known as glycogen), converting glycogen back into glucose to power those hard-working muscles. The longer and harder you exercise, the more glycogen you’ll use and need to replenish afterward [1
In addition to depleting your energy stores, the body loses fluids and electrolytes during exercise. During challenging athletic events, it is not uncommon for athletes to lose 6–10% of body weight through sweat [2
]. Water and electrolytes play critical roles in regulating heart rate, blood pressure, fluid balance, body temperature, energy utilization, and muscle and nerve function, which are obviously essential for sports performance [2
]. The harder you work out, the more water and electrolytes you lose; thus, it’s critical to replenish these after exercise as well.
Exercise breaks down muscle tissue
Muscle fibers stretch and contract during exercise, causing tiny muscle tears. If you’ve ever felt sore after a workout, you’ve experienced this firsthand. After training, the body repairs damaged muscles and builds new muscle tissue to increase muscle strength, size, and efficiency [3
]. Research shows that getting the proper nutrients post-workout can boost muscle recovery and improve strength and body composition [3
Exercise causes inflammation and immune suppression
Prolonged, strenuous exercise increases inflammation and dampens the body’s immune response [4
]. Interestingly, both are closely tied to glycogen levels —inflammation and immunosuppression are triggered as glycogen levels diminish [3
]. Unfortunately, the longer and harder you work out, the more you become susceptible to these effects.
While inadequate nutrition can compound exercise-induced inflammation and immune suppression, research shows proper post-workout nutrition can help mitigate these effects [6
Now that you know why post-workout nutrition is important, let’s dive into what nutrients you need and when you should start refueling after a workout to optimize your recovery.
Key post-workout nutrients
After a workout, the most important nutrients to consume are carbohydrates, protein, and fluid [3
]. Carbohydrates replenish depleted muscle and liver glycogen stores, dietary protein jumpstarts muscle protein synthesis (MPS), and water or an electrolyte beverage replaces lost fluids.
Here’s more on what these nutrients do and how much you should aim to get after a workout.
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel for working muscles and are a key part of post-workout nutrition. After a workout, your body needs carbohydrates to stabilize blood sugar levels and replenish depleted muscle and liver glycogen stores.
Wondering how many carbs you need after a workout to optimize recovery? It depends on how much you weigh and how hard you’re training.
Your activity level and total carbohydrate intake also play a role in recovery. For optimal performance and recovery, here’s how many carbohydrates you need each day based on your activity level:
Normal activity level:
45%-55% calories from carbohydrates (3–8 g/kg/day) [20
Endurance athlete >2hr training/day:
>60% calories from carbohydrates (5–8 g/kg/day) [6
When choosing carbs, whole-grain, high-fiber carbohydrates offer a myriad of benefits and should make up the bulk of your carb intake during the day. That said, quick-digesting carbohydrates (like white bread, bagels, pasta, energy bars, sports drinks, and juice) can be useful immediately after exercise since they are easy to digest, provide quick energy, and can speed up recovery.
Protein comprises various amino acids and plays a crucial role in cell regulation, nerve function, and muscle synthesis [7
]. Research shows that pre- and post-workout protein supplementation can boost physical performance and recovery and increase lean body mass, muscle hypertrophy, and strength [8
Studies show that consuming 20-40 g of high-quality protein within two hours of exercise stimulates robust increases in muscle protein synthesis that can benefit both recovery and future performance [3
]. Furthermore, it’s found that having a 3:1 ratio of carbs-to-protein in a post-workout meal or snack may also enhance protein synthesis [3
The daily recommended protein intake for adults ranges from 0.8-1.2 g/kg/day, though some athletes may need up to 2.2 g/kg/day 
. However, the more active you are, the more protein you will need to support the physical demands of training and recovery. Protein supplements, like Elo Smart Protein
, can be a convenient and cost-efficient way to boost protein intake after exercise to deliver the right amount of nutrients to boost post-workout recovery.
While post-workout protein is key for recovery, the importance of meeting your daily protein goals to support recovery and performance cannot be understated. Research shows it's just as, if not more
important than post-workout protein intake alone [3
Once your workout is over, you must also replenish the fluids and electrolytes lost in the sweat you produced. Rehydrating after a challenging workout is vital for maintaining normal body function, delivering key nutrients to tired muscles, and removing metabolic byproducts and toxins from the body. Severe dehydration can have serious consequences, but even mild dehydration can slow recovery and cause tiredness, headaches, and dizziness. Studies also show that dehydration worsens muscle soreness in the days following exercise [9
The easiest way to measure fluid loss is to weigh yourself before and after exercising. To rehydrate, you’ll need about 3 cups of water (24 fluid ounces) for every pound lost [6
]. If weighing yourself isn’t convenient, the color of your urine is another good indicator of hydration status. For example, urine that is pale yellow (think lemonade) or lighter generally means you’re hydrated.
In addition to drinking fluids, electrolytes (including sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and chloride) are critical for muscle and nerve function and for regulating fluid balance.
If you’re working out for longer than 45 minutes, are exercising in a hot and humid environment, or if you’re a salty sweater, you may benefit from sipping on an electrolyte-enhanced sports drink after exercising [10
]. Remember that you lose more sodium, chloride, and potassium when you sweat than other electrolytes, so these should be the main electrolytes in your post-workout sip [10
Post workout nutrition timing
When it comes to post-workout nutrition, time is of the essence. After a workout, your body immediately goes into repair mode, rebuilding muscle tissue and replenishing depleted glycogen stores. Timing matters because your body’s ability to utilize critical nutrients increases directly after exercise, but only for a short period.
Research shows the optimal time to start replenishing fuel and fluid is 15-60 minutes after you finish exercising [11
That’s not to say your body will stop rebuilding glycogen and protein after the one-hour mark, but how efficiently your body does these things decreases over time. In fact, delaying carbohydrate ingestion by as little as two hours can reduce the rate of muscle glycogen synthesis by 50% [3
Basically, the sooner you start replenishing fuel and fluid after a workout, the better.
Post workout supplements to consider
Once you’re prioritizing carbs, protein, and fluids immediately after exercise, you may wonder what else you can include in your post-workout nutrition plan to optimize recovery.
As it turns out, a handful of supplements (including tart cherry, creatine, glutamine, caffeine, and omega-3s) may have some post-workout perks worth considering.
Tart cherry juice
Tart cherries (different from the sweet cherries we all love) are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory polyphenolic compounds. A growing body of research shows that tart cherry juice can improve performance, reduce pain, soreness and inflammation, and accelerate strength recovery after both strength and endurance exercises [12
Tart cherries can be found in various forms, including juice, capsules, and concentrate. Dosage recommendations vary depending on the preparation, but most studies have used 8-12 ounces (1 ounce if in concentrate form) twice a day, 4-5 days leading up to an event, and 2-3 days after to promote recovery [13
If you want to experiment with tart cherry juice, look for a product without additives and drink 8-12 ounces no more than 60 minutes before and after exercising. To reap all of the recovery benefits, continue taking it up to two times per day for 2-3 days after a race or competition.
One of the most thoroughly studied and widely used supplements in sports, creatine is an amino acid found in muscle tissue that is both synthesized by the body and obtained from the diet in small amounts [14
]. Creatine monohydrate is the most substantiated (and preferred) form of creatine.
In addition to supporting energy production, muscle strength, and performance, evidence shows creatine may also have recovery benefits for both power athletes and endurance athletes alike. These recovery benefits include increased muscle protein synthesis, enhanced glycogen replenishment, and reduced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) [15
]. Creatine may also play a role in reducing muscle damage and inflammation [15
Research to-date recommends starting with a “loading dose” of 20 g/day for 5-7 days, followed by 3-5 g/day thereafter for performance-enhancing benefits [14
One point worth noting is that taking creatine can increase water retention, and some athletes experience slight weight gain (1-2 kg) as a result.
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in muscle, blood, and the body’s free-amino-acid pool. It is synthesized in the body primarily from branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and is also consumed in protein-containing foods. [14
Research shows supplementation with glutamine reduced the magnitude of strength loss, accelerated strength recovery, and diminished muscle soreness more quickly than a placebo [14
Some athletes also supplement with glutamine for its supposed immune-boosting benefits; however, there is limited research currently supporting this use [14
Glutamine supplements, also commonly labeled as L-glutamine, are available in powder and capsule form. Daily dosages ranging from 0.21 - 0.42 g/kg are safe and effective for enhancing recovery in athletes [14
Good news, coffee lovers. In addition to enhancing performance while you exercise, caffeine consumed after exercise may also aid muscle recovery.
Recent research has found that post-workout caffeine paired with carbs (think a cup of coffee with milk alongside a balanced breakfast) can increase glucose levels, glycogen resynthesis rates, and glycogen accumulation after exercise [6
]. Researchers believe caffeine helps bring glucose from your blood and into your muscles, which is then converted into glycogen.
There are no dosing guidelines for post-workout caffeine. However, studies have found positive results with post-workout supplementation of 3-8 mg of caffeine/kg of body weight paired with meals that provided 0.8-1.2 g of carbs/kg and 0.3 g of protein/kg [6
For a 150-pound athlete, that’s equivalent to two to six 8-oz cups of coffee (200-545 mg of caffeine) alongside a meal providing 80 g of carbs and 20 g during a 4-hour recovery window.
If you’re sensitive to caffeine or don’t drink coffee regularly, you may want to start with a small amount or avoid it altogether. Consuming too much caffeine too close to bedtime can also get in the way of a good night's sleep and potentially hurt your recovery more than help. To minimize these effects, consume caffeine in the morning and in limited quantities until you know how your body responds.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids found predominantly in cold-water fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. Fish oil contains two important omega-3s unique to fish and seafood known as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) [18
]. EPA and DHA are essential components of brain and muscle cells. They have been studied for their effects on the brain and cardiovascular health, muscular performance, and recovery from exercise and injury.
Regarding exercise recovery, studies have shown the anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3s may reduce soreness or enhance recovery from muscle-damaging exercise, which may benefit everyone, from individuals starting an exercise program to professional athletes [15
The daily recommendation for all omega-3s is 1,600 mg/day for men and 1,100 mg/day for women [18
]. You can meet this requirement by consuming 1–2 portions (~8 oz) of fish per week. However, if you don’t eat 1–2 servings of fish per week, fish oil supplements can help you get enough of these important omega-3s.
A typical fish oil supplement provides about 1,000 mg (1 g) of fish oil with 180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA; however, formulations and doses vary widely [18
]. Studies in healthy adults show that 2 g/day of omega-3s is safe and effective for reducing inflammation, while taking 3 g/day can reduce muscle soreness after exercise [15
]. There are no established upper limits for omega-3s, but long-term EPA and DHA supplement consumption at combined doses of approximately 5 g/day appears safe [18
What to eat after a workout: Post workout meal and snack ideas
If you’re looking for good foods to eat after a workout, we’ve got you covered. Here are 20+ post-workout snack and meal ideas packed with carbs, protein, and anti-inflammatory compounds to help your body refuel and recover faster.
Quick post-workout snack ideas
Post workout protein shake made with fruit, Elo Smart Protein, and water or your milk of choice
8 oz of chocolate milk
Banana and Greek yogurt
Oatmeal energy bites or an energy bar
Granola, fruit, and yogurt parfait
Salmon and cream cheese bagel
Cottage cheese and fruit
Pita and hummus
Crackers and peanut or almond butter
String cheese and crackers
Cereal with milk and strawberries
Delicious post-workout meal ideas
Veggie egg or tofu scramble with 2 slices of whole grain toast
Oatmeal with Elo Smart Protein, banana, and walnuts
Whole grain pancakes or waffles topped with fresh fruit, almond butter, and a side of chicken or veggie sausage
Burrito with brown rice, beans, and all the salsa and guac you like
Whole wheat pasta topped with chicken breast and veggie marinara
Salmon with baked sweet potato
Turkey wrap with veggies and vinaigrette
Hummus-crusted chicken with brown rice and roasted veggies
Black bean burger & oven-baked fries
Post workout nutrition for weight loss
If you’re trying to lose weight, you might wonder if eating after a workout will move you closer or farther away from your weight loss goals.
Low-carbohydrate diets can be incredibly effective for weight loss, but extreme carbohydrate restriction can crush performance and recovery [19
]. Fueling and refueling, with a combination of complex carbs and lean protein, will help you get more out of your workouts. You’ll maintain and gain muscle mass, increase your performance, and recover faster afterward —meaning you can train harder, longer, and more often.
Here are some recommendations that will support both weight loss and your workouts:
Aim to get 1.2-2.2 g of protein/kg/day divided into 4-6 meals or snacks.
Thirty minutes after a workout, have a snack or small meal consisting of 1 g of carbohydrate/kg and 0.5 g of protein/kg to promote muscle synthesis and minimize muscle breakdown.
When combined with training, time-restricted feeding can benefit fat loss while maintaining strength [19
Approach weight loss like your first 5K or century ride — slow and steady(ish).
Post workout nutrition for muscle gain
Universal findings show getting a combination of carbohydrates (50-75 g) and protein (20-75 g) after heavy resistance training promotes an increase in lean muscle mass and overall improvements in body fat percentage [3
To promote muscle gain, aim to get [3
20-40 g of high-quality protein + 50-75 g of carbohydrates <2 hours after exercise
20-40 g of quality protein every 3-4 hours throughout the day to achieve a daily protein intake of 1.2-2.2 g/kg of bodyweight
Other articles and FAQs about post-workout nutrition
Working out is tough on the body and can leave you feeling sore, low on energy, and make you more susceptible to getting sick. From replenishing depleted energy and fluid stores to boosting muscle synthesis and recovery, what and when you eat or drink after a workout can profoundly affect your performance and overall health.
When it comes to post-workout nutrition, timing, carbohydrates, protein, and fluids should be your top priority as they play key roles in energy and fluid repletion, muscle protein synthesis, and overall recovery. In addition, supplements like tart cherry, creatine, glutamine, caffeine, and omega-3s may provide added benefits that enhance recovery and overall performance gains. Learn more about how Elo Health
can help you optimize your post workout nutrition routine with personalized protein
, smart supplements
, and 1:1 dietitian support.
Disclaimer: The text, images, videos, and other media on this page are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to treat, diagnose or replace personalized medical care.