A post-workout meal optimizes muscle recovery to improve size and strength in athletes. According to Tim Ziegenfuss, president of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, it should contain carbohydrates and protein in a ratio of from 2:1 to 4:1.
Protein gives muscles the amino acids they need to rebuild and recover. Experts recommend consuming a high-quality protein source within a half hour to 45 minutes following a workout. During this time, muscles are primed to rebuild and recover, making it important to consume easy-to-digest forms of protein—such as lean meat, chicken or fish, or a whey protein supplement.
If an athlete is low on fuel (carbs), protein loses its effectiveness, because the body uses protein as an energy source instead of to develop muscle. Adhering to the prescribed carb-to-protein ratio enhances the strength training process and won't subvert your gains.
Carbs from high-glycemic index foods—such as a sports drink, banana, brown rice, potatoes or pretzels—quickly restore energy so your muscles can absorb protein to maximize recovery. Ziegenfuss says, “Higher volumes of training necessitate a greater amount of carbohydrate, whereas athletes looking to improve body composition [i.e., lose body fat] should stay near the low end of the carb recommendation.”
Avoid foods that slow down digestion—those high in fat, like French fries, fatty beef and cheese. Also, in the 45-minute post-workout window, avoid foods high in fiber—such as salads and whole grains. They limit your body's ability to deliver energy and protein quickly to the muscles.
To finish off their post-workout meal, athletes should focus on hydration. Cheryl Zonkowski, University of Florida director of sports nutrition, says to weigh yourself before and after a workout or game. For every pound lost, consume 24 oz. of water or a sports drink.
Check out these post-workout meal options for optimal recovery: