- Post-workout nutrition is about as important as the workout itself since what you consume helps you properly replenish lost nutrients, fosters muscle growth, and promotes recovery.
- Factors such as convenience, taste, and, personal preference all play a supporting role when picking out the kinds of nutrition options that are best for a post-workout diet.
- We spoke to Cara Harbstreet, an MS, RD, LD, and nutritionist, about what to consider when looking for a reliable post-workout meal or snack and what’s best to consume – including natural whey proteins and nutrition bars like KIND.
The thinking used to be that after a workout, you had to rush home and down food or drink ASAP or your muscles would fail to properly build. You had all of 15 minutes, experts would say, for optimal absorption of the proper nutrients to work their magic. Thankfully, that line of thinking has largely been dispelled through continued research.
That doesn’t mean taking in a few calories – the right calories – post-workout isn’t important; it absolutely is. But you can relax a little on the timing, said Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD, and owner of Street Smart Nutrition.
“If you can drink or eat the right things within an hour of your workout, that will adequately ensure your nutrition will be used for recovery,” she told Business Insider. “It also bridges the gap between post-workout and your next meal.”
Why post-workout nutrition is vital
So, why does eating at a certain time and of a certain nutritional makeup even matter? Harbstreet said, “the goal is to replenish what you’ve lost and set your body up for recovery. You’re dealing with muscle breakdown and energy depletion. If you want to get the most out of your next sessions, it’s important to make that up.”
Some people may find it uncomfortable to consume calorie-heavy foods immediately after a workout, though. Instead of going for solids first, try liquids – as long as it provides what you need most, either is fine.
Convenience also plays a significant role. If you’re doing a lunch-time sweat session and need to immediately get back to work, having a nutrient-dense bar on hand might be easier than mixing up some powder and water. Taste should be a factor, as well, since you’re more likely to make the effort to replenish if you like what you’re downing. According to Harbstreet, much of it comes down to personal preference (and some trial and error in terms of what you like).
If you’re curious about ideal nutrient ratios, Harbstreet says a good, general rule of thumb is a balance of about two-thirds carbohydrates to protein, depending on the workout.
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That said, depending on the type of workout you’re doing, there are variations of what nutrients you should be seeking in your post-exercise refueling. We’ve broken it down for you below. After that, tweak to your own preferences.
Here’s what to eat after a workout:
- Best post-workout snack: KIND Nutrition bars
- Best for a long endurance session: NUUN Endurance
- Best after a weight-lifting session: WheyCool Protein Powder
- Most affordable: MRM All Natural Whey Protein Powder
Updated on 8/21/2020 by Rick Stella: Updated the section on why post-workout nutrition is vital, changed the KIND bar selection to the best post-workout snack, checked the availability of each recommended product, and updated the prices and links where necessary.
The best post-workout snack
If you’re an everyday gym goer or exerciser without specific endurance or strength-training needs, you’ll want a middle-of-the-road product that covers the nutrients you deplete.
The goal here is riding the line between over- and under-fueling. According to Harbstreet, this is more about timing and fitting it into your schedule so you don’t end up famished and grabbing junk.
Real-food options that fit the bill are a mix of carbs and protein. Think along the lines of peanut butter and jelly or chocolate milk and a banana. Translate that over to a packaged option for convenience and you get a product like KIND bars.
Made from real food, you get a 1.4-ounce bar made of ingredients like nuts, dark chocolate, fruits, and seeds. Sugars are low but protein is high enough to kick start recovery.
There’s a full line of flavors and configurations to choose from, ensuring that everyone can find a flavor they like. They’re also easy to find in grocery stores, convenience stores, and big-box stores like Target and Wal-Mart, so you’ll never have to worry about running out.
The best for a long endurance session
If you’re running or cycling for 90 minutes or longer, your post-workout replenishment becomes even more important as you’re going to be sweating out nutrients.
NUUN is a popular product among the endurance community. Its standard offering comes in tablet form but the endurance formula is a powder. It’s designed to deliver the optimal ratio of electrolytes and carbohydrates to deliver hydration, which is what you need after an endurance session.
The brand claims its product delivers “only the minerals and nutrients that your body needs,” cutting down on GI distress. It also offers up the proper ratios of powder to water based on outside temperature and bodyweight.
The powder comes in four different flavors, including mixed berry, lemon-lime, citrus mango, and a caffeinated strawberry. This flavor contains 25 mg of caffeine per serving, which the brand says allows for slower caffeine accumulation and a more sustained source of energy versus a quick spike. Some people may experience an upset stomach when consuming caffeine with their supplements, so be aware this might happen.
The best after a weight-lifting session
For heavy weight trainers, protein is the primary focus, though you still want to keep plenty of fluids flowing.
Harbstreet says that, “youu don’t need huge quantities of protein while strength training. You’re looking at about 15 to 30 grams of protein for adequate recovery.”
WheyCool fits that bill perfectly, coming in at 20 grams of grass-fed whey protein per scoop/serving. The brand is recognized for its clean product, sourcing its whey from grass-fed cows that graze on pesticide- and chemical-free, non-GMO pastures.
The downside to WheyCool is its price: $84 for a 30-serving container.
Still, enthusiasm for the product is sky-high, as it’s often praised for its good taste (it comes in chocolate, vanilla, and unflavored) and the fact it’s low in carbohydrates.
The most affordable
MRM offers a beneficial and replenishing protein powder that goes easy on your wallet.
MRM claims to provide a highly concentrated essential amino acid formula, which makes up about 50 percent of the powder. It’s also fortified with L-Glutamine, which may help stimulate the release of growth hormones. Other ingredients include kefir, added probiotics, and enzymes, each of which allows the powder to be easily digestible.
MRM’s protein powders are also antibiotic-, hormone-, and gluten-free, adding to its allure among those looking for natural post-workout nutrition. Flavors include dutch chocolate and rich vanilla.