Exercise play such an important role in supporting overall health. Regular physical activity can help support both physical and mental health, but there’s more to just getting a good workout in when it comes to optimal health. Nutrition plays an equally, if not a more important role as the two truly go hand in hand. While it’s essential to move your body regularly, the foods you consume after a workout are essential for refueling glycogen stores, energy levels, and supporting muscle recovery.

The great news is that making sure you are getting the nutrition you need after exercise doesn’t have to be complicated, time-consuming, or expensive. There are tons of simple ways to make sure you are fueling your body with the foods it needs to recover after exercise so that you can feel your best, and continue to feel energized before, during, and after your daily workout.

Let’s start by looking at the different roles carbohydrates, protein, and fats play in the diet when it comes to post-workout fuel, and then look at some healthy options to add into your diet.

The Best Post-Workout Fuel Sources

Complex Carbohydrates: Carbs act as a primary fuel source, and can be especially important both before and after exercise. During periods of activity, you will likely deplete at least some of your glycogen stores. Glycogen is a polysaccharide and the storage form of glucose. (1) When you exercise, you may burn through some of your available carbohydrates as well as some of the glycogen you have stored from previous meals. This is why it is important to fuel your body with the appropriate carbohydrate sources before you exercise, and then again after.

Let’s take a look at some of the best complex carbohydrate options you can enjoy after a workout to help refuel those depleted glycogen stores.

  •      Rolled oats
  •      Quinoa
  •      Brown rice
  •      Gluten free pasta
  •      Lentils
  •      Starchy vegetables: sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, winter squash
  •      Fruits: some great options post-workout include bananas, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, acai, and apricots

Healthy Fats: While carbohydrates are generally viewed as the body’s primary fuel source, especially when it comes to exercise, fats can be excellent for energy as well. This is especially true when someone is following a ketogenic diet, and relying on fats as their primary fuel source. Since fats are super energy dense, providing the body with nine calories per gram, they can serve as an excellent post-workout fuel source.


For years, fats have been thought to slow absorption after exercise, and thus interfere with the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients like carbs and protein. However, it is now thought that fats may slow absorption, but they won’t actually interfere with the benefits of the other nutrients you are consuming. (2) This is great news because there are plenty of healthy fats that can make a great addition to your post-workout meal. However, keep in mind that a little fat goes a long way, so there’s no need to eat a ton. A small amount will provide your body with exactly what it needs after a workout.

Let’s take a look at some of the healthy fats you may want to consider adding to your post-workout meal.

  •      Coconut oil
  •      Coconut milk
  •      Sliced avocado
  •      Nuts
  •      Chia, flax, or hemp seeds
  •      Wild-caught salmon

Clean Protein: Protein plays such an important role in not only post-exercise recovery, but overall health as well. The body relies on protein to make enzymes, hormones and acts as a building block for our bones and muscles. (3) After a workout, it’s important for us to refuel our body with optimal protein sources to help support muscle protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis plays such an important role in exercise recovery and is what helps to build muscle mass. We need to support muscle protein synthesis in order to support muscle growth. Muscle growth can only occur if muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown that occurs during exercise. (4) To help create this balance, fueling the body with the right protein sources after exercise is essential. It is thought that getting just 20 grams of high-quality protein after exercise can help boost muscle protein synthesis. (5) So, where can we get high-quality protein?

Here are some protein-rich foods you can add to your diet after a workout.

  •      Grass-fed animal protein
  •      Eggs
  •      Wild-caught fish
  •      Unsweetened full-fat Greek yogurt
  •      Collagen protein
  •      Plant-based options: Lentils, beans, quinoa

Post-Workout Food Combos

After a workout, you may not always have time to put together an actual meal, and that’s ok! There are ways you can make sure you are fueling your body with what it needs without having to make a complete meal immediately.

Here are some food combination ideas to help you refuel quickly.

  • One cup of unsweetened full-fat Greek yogurt with a drizzle of raw honey, and one cup of blueberries.
  • Post workout shake made with unsweetened almond milk, a frozen banana, a scoop of collagen protein, ¼ of a sliced avocado, and a tablespoon of flaxseeds.
  • One handful of almonds with one sliced banana, and two slices of nitrate-free organic turkey breast.

Try implementing these tips to help refuel your body with the right foods after your daily workout. You may be surprised to see just how important optimal nutrition plays in how well you feel during and after exercise, and how much faster you recover after an intense workout. Not only that, but you may notice an increase in exercise performance and results, especially if you are supporting optimal muscle protein synthesis. Fuel your body right, and reap all of the amazing health benefits of combining optimal nutrition and regular exercise.

About the Author

Rebecca Jacobs

Rebecca Jacobs

Rebecca Jacobs N.C is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant, specializing in digestive and women's health. She takes a holistic approach to wellness, doesn't believe in "dieting," and believes that healthy eating must be delicious. Rebecca is also a health writer and recipe developer and creates healthy alternatives to traditionally unhealthy foods.