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What Should You Eat After Your Workout?

by Darin L. Steen

One of my mentors, Jack La Lanne, once said, “Exercise is your king, and nutrition is your queen. Together they create your fitness kingdom."

I believe there is a lot of truth to that statement. Exercise is the spark, and nutrition is fuel for your metabolism.

You can exercise until you are blue in the face, but until you master what you eat, you will never reach your true fitness potential.

Eating Higher Quality Foods is Not Enough

On the surface it seems that not eating junk food and eating only healthy, living, unprocessed foods would do the trick.

But in order to fuel your fat burning engine, you need to take it a step further. You need to eat smaller meals more frequently. Eventually, you’ll want to eat 5-6 small meals per day, with protein and carbs combined in each meal.

In order to get the most results from your fitness routine you must;

  1. Learn about the timing of your meals in reference to your wake-up and bed time, and your workout time.
  2. Learn about your macro-nutrient totals. That’s just a fancy word for the optimal percentage of carbs, proteins, and fats in each of your meals.
  3. Use good sources of acceptable proteins and carbohydrates.
  4. Determine your nutritional type, which will indicate the ideal ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats that your body needs for optimal performance.

Beneficial sources of protein include:

  • Organic chicken (dark meat for protein types)
  • Fish (as long as it is free of heavy metals and other contaminants.
  • Organic free-range eggs
  • Lean, grass-fed red meat
  • Whey protein
  • Nuts and seeds

Beneficial sources of carbohydrates (fibrous veggie type) include:

  • Any vegetable (the more colorful the better)
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach
  • Apples
  • Grapefruit

Good sources of starchy carbohydrates are:

  • Brown or wild rice
  • Yams/ sweet potatoes
  • Bananas

A Typical Workout Plan

An effective, time efficient workout plan should include two cardio sessions per week, and two resistance (weight lifting) sessions per week.

The cardio sessions are for fat burning. The resistance training sessions are for building muscle and sculpting your physique.

It is important to combine a quality protein and a carb (fibrous veggie type) together in every meal, no matter whether it’s a resistance training day, an interval cardio day, or a non-workout day.

In fact, there’s a well kept nutritional secret in the competitive bodybuilding and fitness world. It is called carb cycling or zig-zag dieting. It works very well for building muscle and losing fat.

It is a very simple concept. You simply add a small serving of starchy carbs to two or three meals throughout the day on resistance training days.

This helps your body and muscles to have more fuel on days that you are burning lots of energy with the resistance workouts.

For many, it’s also comforting to know that you can eat some starchy carbs two or three days per week (on the days that you exercise intensely with weights). This can make it easier to avoid eating starchy carbs like breads and pastas at other times of the week when you are more susceptible to having them stored as fat due to low physical activity.

This approach seems to help give most of our clients the mindset that they can stick to this nutritional approach as a long-term solution and a lifestyle.

What to Eat After Your Workouts

After a cardiovascular workout (fat loss day), wait 45-60 minutes, and then consume a high quality source of protein (whole food) and vegetable-type carbohydrate. An example would be a spinach salad and some chicken.

The reason why you’ll want to wait an hour after the session to eat is to ride the fat burning wave of your cardio session. However, waiting more than an hour is typically too long, and can start to slow down your metabolism because your body goes into starvation mode.

After a resistance workout (muscle building day) you need a different approach. The meal after a resistance workout is the only meal that you ever want to be absorbed rapidly.


Because typically, when a meal is absorbed fast because of high glycemic or simple carbs, there is a good chance your blood sugar will rise too fast, and the carbohydrates will be stored as body fat.

But after a resistance workout, you’ve just primed the pump with an intense workout (with weights), and you have a one hour window of opportunity to shuttle in nutrients, amino acids, glycogen, and other anabolic nutrients to help repair your damaged muscles.

If you miss this one hour window after your intense workout, the chances that your muscles will be able to repair themselves, which makes them bigger and stronger, diminish significantly.

Keep in mind that after a workout, your stomach and digestive tract do not function as efficiently. The reason is because your digestive tract is incredibly vascular and uses significant amounts of blood to do its job. The problem arises because much of your blood is in the muscles that you just finished training. So an adequate amount of blood is not available to digest food eaten after a workout.

For this reason, the best post workout meal on resistance training days is whey protein and a higher glycemic (fast released, starchy) carbohydrate. You can use a banana as your carb. The potassium in the banana seems to help with recovery. The whey protein is already pre-digested so it is absorbed rapidly.

You’ll want to consume your fast released post workout meal 15-30 minutes after an intense weight training session.

Start to implement these rules of proper fitness nutrition, and you’ll likely start to feel your clothes fit better within a couple of weeks.

Everyone has the power to change. Many people get in the best shape of their life in their 40’s and 50’s. You can too! A healthy fitness lifestyle is the only true fountain of youth that exists.

Train hard and expect success.