Foods consumed after a workout will impact recovery and sports performance.

We asked the Martin coaching team about which foods they eat after a workout and it was no surprise that we received great responses instantly. At the elite level, nutrition is dialed in and the athletes know which foods to grab after a tough workout to promote recovery. We created this post to highlight the importance of refueling and provide some great options from the pros. 

 

How exercise affects energy stores

During a workout or run, the body breaks down glycogen into usable energy to supply working muscles. As the workout progresses, glycogen stores become depleted and muscle tissue further breaks down. Once exercise stops, the body will absorb nutrients to start the recovery process (Burke). If nutrients are not available, recovery after a workout can take longer. This can be a problem if you are training again the next day or later that same day. 

 

Food is the best recovery tool

Nutrition can promote faster recovery. Eating the right amount of food immediately after a workout will restore muscle and liver glycogen which is essential for recovery between training sessions or competitive events. Recovery foods are especially important for athletes who work out or compete multiple times per day, as they have limited time for recovery. Carbohydrates and a small amount of protein are necessary to kickstart recovery. 

 

Glycogen window: carbs and protein

Take advantage of the glycogen window by consuming adequate carbohydrates and protein within the first hour of a workout. During this time, the muscles are primed to absorb nutrients at a faster rate, then slows. Aim for 1-1.2 g/kg/hour carbohydrates for 3-4 hours post exercise to maximize glycogen resynthesis (Burke). For example, a 150 pound person could consume 120 grams of carbohydrates and 20-30 grams protein in two meals after a workout (Kersick). That’s equivalent to eating a bagel with peanut butter and a fruit smoothie. 

These numbers are estimates, your body might require more or less food based on the intensity of the workout and how you feel. Recovery will continue over the next few hours but at a slower rate.

If eating every hour is not possible, aim for 130 grams carbohydrate immediately after a workout and two hours later. Include high glycemic foods such as honey, syrup or carbohydrate-rich beverages to maximize glycogen uptake for athletes who have limited recovery time between workouts (Donaldson). 

Post-workout nausea

If solid foods are not tolerated after a workout, take small bites from bland foods like crackers, dry toast or cold beverages such as a sports drink, until your appetite improves. 

 

Martin Coaching staff’s favorite recovery foods

 

Ravenna Neville 

I love a loaded smoothie! My go-to recipe is: plain Greek yogurt, a little honey, blueberries, fistful of spinach, a tbsp of nut butter (I’m partial to Stoke!), banana and frozen mango. Plenty of protein to replenish stores and easy on the stomach!

Aubrey Martin

I love making breakfast burritos! Especially with kale, eggs, cheese/vegan cheese, whole wheat tortilla, and hot sauce! Carbs + protein + sodium (ed. note: and flavor!)

Brendan Martin 

If I’m out and about, especially when I’m at work, a Protein knockout from Juice generation is a staple alongside an everything bagel with Tofutti or a cream cheese.

Otherwise a tortilla with hummus, “micro greens” or baby spinach and ranch dressing is a super easy option to make for a very wholesome and clean lunch.

Johannes Motschmann

Some things I always keep with me in my training bag when i’m going to do a workout or hard run are Fruit and Vegan chocolate protein shake powder with oat milk and bananas. I try to get them in within 15 minutes of finishing the workout to make sure I’m replenishing quickly and aiding my recovery.

Some other easy ones I like are Maurten solid Bar and regular soda. The consumption of sugar in conjunction with exercise will accelerate glycogen repletion (Kerksick).

Luciano Fiore 

Two bananas 🍌 after every run and recently been loving MacroBars post run. Especially if the weight-room is soon to follow. Bananas provide the most versatile fruit in the game and an extra 12 grams plant-based protein boost from the macro bar.

On colder days, Fiore likes oats with chunky peanut butter (Brands – Santa Cruz or Once Again if I’ve got some spending cash) cocoa nibs, cinnamon, banana and honey.

Usually eat half. Leave the second half in my passenger seat and rationalize eating it after training because of the mandatory metabolic window.

Liam Dee

Like Luciano, I’ve been double-batch cooking my oats so that I can have some pre and post run. Usually, I’ll add honey, milk, raisins, banana and chia seeds for extra texture and omega-3.

If I’m in the mood for something more lunch-forward, I love Hummus sandwiches on a nice Portuguese roll loaded with greens, cucumber and cherry tomatoes and topped with chips and a bit of spicy honey if I have it! More recently I have acquired a rice-cooker which means I can set that going before an evening jog and can quickly stir-fry some veg and tofu and be eating a proper meal quickly post-run.

Of late, I have been fiendishly eating bananas out of sheer practicality, but my go-to quick satiating snack is yoghurt with cherries or frozen fruit and honey, and some kind of cereal topping.

Amy Stephens, Sports Dietitian 

My favorite food after a workout is avocado toast with a hard boiled egg and red pepper. Avocado provides a great source of healthy fats and eggs  provide high quality protein with all essential amino acids. 

Some additional options are:

  • Granola, yogurt and fruit
  • Peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich on whole-wheat bread
  • Chocolate milk
  • Fruit smoothie made with banana, strawberries, mango, and milk. 
  • Sports beverage containing carbohydrate and protein – Skratch Horchata
  • Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread
  • Peanut butter on crackers
  • Dried fruit and nuts
  • Graham crackers and yogurt
  • Peanut butter and apple slices

References

Burke LM, Hawley JA, Wong SH, Jeukendrup AE. Carbohydrates for training and competition. J Sports Sci. 2011;29 Suppl 1:S17-27. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2011.585473. Epub 2011 Jun 9. PMID: 21660838.

Burke LM, Kiens B, Ivy JL. Carbohydrates and fat for training and recovery. J Sports Sci. 2004 Jan;22(1):15-30. doi: 10.1080/0264041031000140527. PMID: 14971430.

Burke L and Deakin V. Clinical Sports Nutrition, Third Edition.

Donaldson CM, Perry TL, Rose MC. Glycemic index and endurance performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2010 Apr;20(2):154-65. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.20.2.154. Erratum in: Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2011 Jun;21(3):262-4. PMID: 20479489.

Kerksick CM, Arent S, Schoenfeld BJ, Stout JR, Campbell B, Wilborn CD, Taylor L, Kalman D, Smith-Ryan AE, Kreider RB, Willoughby D, Arciero PJ, VanDusseldorp TA, Ormsbee MJ, Wildman R, Greenwood M, Ziegenfuss TN, Aragon AA, Antonio J. International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Aug 29;14:33. doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4. PMID: 28919842; PMCID: PMC5596471.