8 Nutrients You Need After a Workout

If you work out regularly, you probably already know that eating after a workout is essential. Your body needs help to replenish itself when you exercise.

But when it comes to post-workout nutrition, all foods are not created equal. It’s common for people who work out to get protein after they hit the gym, but there are other essential nutrients you might be missing out on. Here are 8 of the most important nutrients to include in your post-workout meal.

#1: Leucine

Leucine is an essential amino acid that’s responsible for signaling the mTOR protein in your muscles to stimulate protein synthesis.

One study we reviewed compared three post-workout nutritional profiles to see which one offered the most benefits in terms of protein synthesis. The three profiles were:

  • Carbohydrates only
  • A combination of carbohydrates and protein
  • A combination of carbohydrates, protein, and free leucine

The combination of carbohydrates, proteins, and leucine offered the best results. Some of the key benefits were:

  • Increased whole body net protein balance
  • Higher muscle protein synthesis rates

Choosing a post-workout snack or meal that’s rich in leucine can help your body recover more quickly. Dairy products are a good source of leucine, and ricotta cheese is a great option because it’s also a rich source of our next essential post-workout nutrient.

post workout snack

#2: Whey Protein

Whey protein is derived from dairy products and it’s a common ingredient in protein powders (excepting, of course, vegan products.) As we mentioned above, ricotta cheese is a terrific source of whey protein.

We found one study that examined the effects of whey protein on men after they worked out. It found that men who consumed whey protein had higher bone metabolism than those who did not. Higher bone metabolism is related to bone strength. Strong bones are important because they’re less likely to break – making you less likely to sustain a serious injury when you’re working out.

In addition to ricotta cheese, you can get your whey protein from:

  • Protein powders containing whey protein
  • Cottage cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Milk

Hard cheeses such as cheddar have a little whey. But, for a post-workout boost, your best bet is to go with one of the whey-rich options we’ve listed here.

#3: Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid

Much has been written about the health benefits of Omega-3 essential fatty acid. It’s important for heart health, brain health, and cancer prevention, among other things. However, you may not know that it can also do your body a world of good after a workout.

One study compared the effects of plain chocolate milk and chocolate milk enriched with Omega-3 on rats after an intense workout. The results clearly showed that the rats who took the Omega-3 had less overall muscle damage and faster recovery than those who got the placebo. The study group also had lower cholesterol than the control group.

There’s more good news about Omega-3. Many studies, like this one, have shown that Omega-3 essential fatty acid has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Eating foods rich in Omega-3 after a workout can help to minimize post-workout soreness and discomfort.

what are the best post workout foods

Good dietary sources of Omega-3 include:

  • Cold-water fish such as mackerel, salmon, and sardines
  • Flax seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Soybeans

Of course, you also have the option of taking an Omega-3 supplement if you prefer.

#4: Anthocyanins

If you’ve paid any attention to the research about antioxidant vitamins and minerals, you probably know about anthocyanins. They’re naturally occurring compounds found in many fruits and vegetables and they’re great for post-workout recovery.

The big deal about antioxidants is that they fight inflammation. After a workout, your muscles have been worked and your joints may be inflamed. The harder you work out, the more likely it is that you’ll experience some post-workout inflammation.

That’s where anthocyanins come in. Research shows that anthocyanins can boost the human body’s ability to recover from wounds. Even a workout that doesn’t involve an injury per se can benefit from accelerated wound recovery. For example, if you lift weights, you are tearing the muscles to build them back up.

And, if you exercise to lose weight, there’s a reason to believe that a diet rich in anthocyanins can help to combat obesity and improve glucose metabolism. Since there’s often a link between obesity and diabetes, the latter benefit is one that’s important.

Good dietary sources of anthocyanins include:

  • Sour cherries
  • Blueberries
  • Pomegranates
  • Red onions
  • Kidney beans
  • Tomatoes
  • Acai
  • Bilberry
  • Elderberry
  • Grapes

Most fruits and vegetables with a purple or red color are good sources of anthocyanins after a workout.

#5: Curcumin

Curcumin is a nutrient that’s been getting a lot of attention, and with good reason. It’s the compound that gives turmeric its distinctive yellow color, and it is one of the most powerful anti-inflammatories in the world. In fact, it’s so powerful that there’s even reason to believe it can prevent Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.

There are many studies like this one, which found that curcumin supplementation could help with general inflammation as well as serious inflammatory diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.

5 best post workout foods

Likewise, curcumin has been found to help with wound healing, and that includes post-workout recovery of torn muscles. A study from 2015 found that curcumin was beneficial at several stages of the wound-healing process, including tissue reformation.

To get the curcumin you need, you can add dried turmeric to your food or squeeze fresh turmeric juice and drink it. Of course, there are also curcumin supplements available. You may want to look for one that combines turmeric and piperine, a compound found in black pepper.

#6: Creatine

Creatine is commonly included in protein powders and is part of any serious muscle-building regimen. And, while a lot of people take creatine before a workout, there’s research to show that it may be preferable to consume it as part of your post-workout meal.

We found one study that compared the effects of pre-workout creatine with the effects of post-workout creatine. It found that the subjects who took creatine after their workouts experienced greater benefits in terms of decreased fat mass and increased muscle mass than those who took creatine before they worked out.

Red meat and fish are the two best dietary sources of creatine. For vegetarians and vegans, creatine is hard to come by because there are no plant-based sources. However, there are vegan and vegetarian creatine supplements available and you can use them instead.

#7: Carbohydrates

Carb-loading before an intense workout gets a lot of attention, but not enough attention is paid to the need for carbohydrates after a workout. When you work out, your body dips into its stores of glycogen – the form of glucose that’s stored in your muscles. After you work out, you need to replenish your body’s supply of glycogen to fuel your next workout.

Of course, not all carbs are the same. Eating a candy bar will give you carbs – but not the kind you need. Ideally, you should choose carbohydrate sources with a low glycemic index.

So, what are the best sources of good carbohydrates to include in your post-workout meal? Two of our favorites are:

  • Sweet potatoes, which have a lower glycemic index and more fiber than white potatoes
  • Quinoa, which is a gluten-free grain with tons of protein as well

Including one or both in your post-exercise meal or snack can help your body rebuild its glycogen stores and get you ready for your next workout.

#8: Yerba Mate

Our final nutrient is one you may not be familiar with, but it’s something that can give your body a needed boost after a tough workout. It’s yerba mate, which is a kind of tea indigenous to South America.

We found one study that concluded that drinking yerba mate after a workout led to more rapid strength recovery in the 24-hour period after an intense workout. It also increased overall antioxidant levels in the blood of the people who took it compared to those who took a placebo. As we have mentioned already, antioxidants help to reduce post-workout inflammation.

what to eat after a workout to lose weight

There’s another key benefit of adding yerba mate to your post-workout meal, too. A Korean study from 2012 found that yerba mate had a profound impact on dietary-induced obesity. Specifically, it resulted in:

  • Lower growth rate of adipose (fatty) tissue
  • Lower body weight gain
  • Reduced risk of obesity

In addition, it also improved basal metabolism and reduced serum cholesterol, serum triglycerides, and glucose concentrations. In other words, it has the potential to help you lose weight while also reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Yerba mate can be found in specialty stores and online. You can add it to a post-workout smoothie or simply drink a cup of yerba mate with the rest of your meal.


The nutrients you choose to consume after a workout have a direct impact on your body’s recovery time, metabolism, and other factors. The 8 key nutrients we’ve listed here will help you bounce back after a tough workout and be in the best possible shape for the next