You know the feeling after a tough lifting session: you are hot, sweaty, and those three stairs to the parking lot look insurmountable. Importantly, a nutritious post-workout meal will help your body not only recover, but be stronger than it was beforehand. This handout describes exactly what you should eat after a great resistance training session and provides some example foods. While these recommendations are fairly well established and very accessible, this article proceeds to describe the psychological and biological mechanisms that lead to exhaustion and muscle soreness. This information will allow you to optimize your own personal post-workout meals and allow you to take your game to the next level.

What to eat and drink to recover from resistance training
Here is a quick-reference guide for the major nutrients that ought to be in mind when planning your post-workout meal:

1) Protein

At least 20 g high quality protein (e.g., whey)

2) Fluids

To make up the amount of weight you lost.

3) Creatine

0.1 g/kg body weight (per day, not necessarily all in the post-workout meal)

4) Carbohydrates

0-1.0 g/kg body weight

  • Why. There is overwhelming evidence that protein stimulates muscle protein synthesis [1]. Moreover, post-workout protein reverses muscle protein breakdown, stimulates glycogen synthesis [2], reduces cortisol concentrations [3] and, theoretically, accelerates the recovery process [1]. High quality protein with a large proportion of essential amino acids (e.g., whey protein) will facilitate tissue repair and hypertrophic processes [4]. In addition, branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) prevent tryptophan accumulation in the brain. So, central fatigue can be mitigated with BCAA supplements [5]. Inadequate caloric intake and, especially, protein intake will decrease immunity [3]; athletes on restrictive diets such as a low-calorie or vegetarian diet should take extra caution to consume adequate protein both post-workout and throughout the day [1], [3].
  • How much. The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends consuming about 0.4-0.5 g/kg protein, or at least 20 g protein for athletes of approximately 80 kg (176 lb) in their 20s. Several studies have determined that 20 g whey protein stimulates maximal muscle protein synthesis, and more protein does not provide either benefit or detriment [6]–[8]. With that said, individuals with a larger mass and older individuals (in their 50s or older) need more protein to maximally stimulate protein muscle synthesis (i.e., at least 30 g).
  • What. Good sources of protein include: dairy products (especially milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt), meat, soy (e.g., soy milk, tofu), protein bars and shakes, and nuts. Ensure that the protein contains a large amount of essential amino acids (EAAs; e.g., leucine, tryptophan), as these cannot be synthesized in the body from other macronutrients [7].

  • Why. Dehydration due to sweating is very common. Sweat rates vary greatly depending on the intensity of the workout, the temperature of the environment, and the person [9].
  • How much. Drinking to quench your thirst may not be enough to completely replenish your fluids [10]. Therefore, it is advised to weigh yourself before and after your workout; your weight loss should be replaced with fluids (1 kg = 1 L of water; 1 lb. = 15.3 fl. oz., or about 2 cups).
  • What. In regard to what fluids to consume, water is the best when consumed with food because the food will also replenish necessary electrolytes. In addition to being great sources of protein, protein shakes, milk, chocolate milk, and smoothies can also be important sources of fluids.

  • Why. Creatine aids in the development of muscle mass and strength, which are typically the goals of resistance training.
  • How much. The ISSN recommends 0.1 g creatine monohydrate/kg body weight/day (i.e., an 85 kg or 187 lb person would consume 8.5 g creatine/day).
  • What. Meat, especially herring, tuna, beef, and chicken, are natural sources of creatine. However, meat-eaters typically only consume about 1 g per day. Supplements are the best source of creatine.

  • Why. There is a debate in the field as to whether carbohydrates are an essential post-workout nutrient for resistance training [11]. While glucose provides fuel for working muscles and for the brain, it can be synthesized from fat and amino acids. Also, pre-workout carbohydrates or carbohydrates from peri-workout meals may provide a sufficient amount of energy [7]. However, carbohydrates are important to consume when an athlete’s glycogen stores need to be replenished quickly (for example for a subsequent workout in the same 24-hr period).
  • How much. Carbohydrates stimulate anabolic processes, but anabolic processes may be able to be maximally stimulated with protein alone (this is debatable) [11]. Thus, this is a good place to consider your long-term goals – are you trying to gain or lose weight? If you are trying to lose weight, eat fewer carbohydrates here; if you are trying to gain weight, eat up to 1.0 g/kg body weight here.
  • What. Carbohydrates are present in sports drinks, fruit, potatoes, wheat, rice, and oats. Although some sources recommend high glycemic index carbohydrates to maximize circulating insulin concentrations, this claim is unfounded (see the glycemic index article for more information) [11].