From the regular weekend warrior to the professional athlete, every gym-goer knows that recovery is just as important as exercise itself. Nutrition is a critical part of the recovery process, allowing your muscles to replenish and restore post-workout.
But how do you know what to eat after a workout?
Most nutritionists will tell you that you need a combination of protein, fat, and carbs to rebuild your muscles post-workout.
However, as someone who is fat-adapted (translation: you’ve been following the keto diet for quite some time), your needs may be different than the person next to you at the gym.
Finding the right foods for your recovery may take some trial and error. Each person’s needs are different, and your post-workout fuel will depend on your training, digestion, and body composition.
This guide offers a few guidelines on how to access your fat, carb, and protein needs post-exercise, a few sample snack options, and some portable post-workout foods that can make your recovery easier.
You have a crucial post-workout window where you should consume nutrients. While this time frame can vary, most dietetics professionals will tell you that it’s best to consume a small meal within 45 minutes of your workout[*].
After a rigorous workout at the gym, your body will deplete a significant amount of stored fuel. Most dietitians agree that you need some combination of carbohydrates, fat, and protein to build muscle post-workout[*]. But the amount of each macro needed will vary from person to person.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
When you work out, tiny fibers in your muscles break apart. To rebuild and repair your muscles, you must undergo a process called myofibrillar hypertrophy. And to do so, you have to eat protein.
Muscle protein synthesis allows your muscles to rebuild and grow post-workout. When you have a positive protein balance, your muscles can strengthen and repair themselves[*]. During muscle protein synthesis, your muscles feed on amino acids, the building blocks of protein[*].
So, how much protein do you need? Quite a bit, actually.
Some studies show that you need to consume as much as a gram of protein per pound of body weight post-exercise. If you weigh 150 pounds, this means you might have to consume 150 grams of protein for muscle growth[*].
How Many Carbs Do You Need?
The number of carbohydrates you consume will depend heavily on your activity level. If you do heavy strength training, for example, you may need more protein than someone who does light cardio.
Ben Greenfield, a competitive triathlete, went viral for reportedly eating 100-150 grams of carbs per day while staying in ketosis.
Before his heavy workout days, he reportedly consumed 7-10 grams of carbs per kilo of body weight and stayed in ketosis. Here’s how that math rounds out: On heavy workout days, a 150-pound male would be advised to eat roughly 450-675 grams of carbs.
If you’re wondering how (or why) someone would consume such high amounts of carbs on the keto diet, you need to understand two things:
- The kind of physical activity matters: Ben Greenfield is a professional Iron Man athlete. Therefore, his hours-long training sessions will require far more from his glycogen stores than someone attending a 45-minute cycling class.
- It’s not just about how many carbs — it’s about when those carbs are consumed: Ben, like many athletes, follows a cyclical keto diet. With this type of low-carb diet, large amounts of carbs are consumed on hard training days at specific times around his workout. Complex carbohydrates (sweet potatoes, brown rice, or quinoa) will be consumed before a workout to provide energy, and then in a post-workout meal to replenish glycogen stores.
How Much Fat Do You Need?
Depending on your digestion, you may find it difficult to consume large amounts of fat immediately following your workout. If your stomach feels upset when trying to consume fat post-exercise, don’t force it.
Instead, focus on getting most calories from fat throughout the day, rather than immediately before or following a tough workout (when your stomach is most sensitive).
That said, there may be a few high-fat food sources that support your recovery without interfering with digestion. Avocados, nuts and nut butter, or smoothies with coconut cream are good examples.
After a workout, aim to consume all three of your macros: healthy fats, carbs, and protein. When it comes to carbs, start with a very modest amount. Continuously test your ketone levels to ensure you don’t consume so many carbs you kick yourself out of ketosis.
Finally, remember that carbs aren’t limited to whole grains and starchy vegetables. Virtually all fruits and vegetables contain small amounts of carbohydrates (and more fiber than a slice of toast).
Looking for the best foods to help you refuel? Some post-workout snack options include:
- Hard-boiled eggs, carrots, and celery sticks
- A homemade trail mix of cashews, dark chocolate, and coconut flakes or premade keto-friendly nuts and trail mix
- A Greek yogurt parfait with plain yogurt or coconut yogurt, keto granola, chia seeds, and blueberries
- One slice of cloud bread (instead of whole-wheat toast) with avocado slices and scrambled eggs (use the whole egg, not just egg whites)
- A wrap made with a low-carb tortilla, low-carb hummus, veggies, and grilled chicken breast
- A smoothie made with avocado, fresh berries, and Perfect Keto Whey Protein Powder
- Cottage cheese and fresh melon
- A wrap with tuna salad, keto mayo, and plenty of leafy greens
Unless you live incredibly close to your gym, getting adequate nutrition within 45 minutes of your workout can be a challenge. After all, how are you supposed to come home and cook an entire meal in such a short window of time?
To make your recovery work for you, choose a portable, post-workout snack you can easily toss in your gym bag. That way, you can begin to refuel on your return trip from the gym. Excellent options include:
- Perfect Keto Bars: With 11 grams of protein, 18 grams of fat, and 11 grams of carbs (2 grams of net carbs), these bars give you a wonderful balance of macros in a conveniently-packaged snack. Plus, they come in delicious flavors such as Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Cinnamon Roll, Birthday Cake, and Salted Caramel.
- Keto Whey Protein: Unlike many protein powders that contain unwanted ingredients, Perfect Keto Whey Protein fuels your body with grass-fed whey, stevia, and MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides). Toss it in your gym bag and blend with water for an easy post-workout shake or mix with avocado, berries, and cocoa powder for a delicious smoothie.
Post-workout nutrition is essential for recovery. Your muscles require adequate protein intake to rebuild and enough carbs to restore glycogen levels. Plus, as someone following the keto diet, you’ll need to consume enough fat throughout the day to remain in ketosis.
Overall, your goal is to consume a combination of fat, carbs, and protein post-workout. Foods like chocolate milk, cottage cheese, protein smoothies, and Greek yogurt are all excellent options. That said, do a little experimenting to find the “right” foods for you.
When it comes to post-workout meals, timing is key. Consuming a small meal within 45 minutes post-workout is optimal for recovery, but it can be logistically challenging. Choose clean, portable snack options, like Keto Bars or a Keto Whey Protein shakes, to make your recovery work for you.