Post-Workout Foods

There are four major nutritional requirements for recovery after a muscle workout:

  1. Water – to replace fluid lost as sweat and to aid the process of ‘glycogen fixation’ (carbohydrate storage ready for the next training session);
  2. Electrolytes – to replenish minerals lost in sweat(e.g. sodium, potassium, chloride);
  3. Carbohydrate – to replenish muscle glycogen, the body’s premium source of fuel for strenuous exercise and also to top up liver glycogen stores, which serve as a reserve to maintain correct blood sugar levels;
  4. Protein – to repair and regenerate muscle fibres damaged during exercise, to promote muscle growth and adaptation, and to replenish the amino acid pool within the body. The highest muscle glycogen synthesis (carbohydrate storage) rates occur when large amounts of rapidly absorbed (high GI) carbohydrate (1-1.85g per kg of body weight per hour) are consumed immediately after exercise and at 15- to 60-minute intervals thereafter, for up to five hours. Delaying carbohydrate ingestion by several hours may slow down muscle glycogen synthesis.

Also the presence of amino acids in the bloodstream and their availability to muscle cells is vital for protein synthesis after exercise. Different proteins are digested at different rates, the most rapidly digested protein is whey, found predominantly in milk and dairy products. Once digested, whey protein delivers high levels of branched chain amino acids that seem to stimulate growth and repair of the muscles. .

Ideally, a post-muscle workout snack will provide 1g of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight and 0.5g of protein. This should be consumed along with a bottle of water within 30 minutes of finishing training, followed by a high carbohydrate meal within two hours.

Potato and Edam salad
(Serves 1)
Per portion: 282 kcal, 26g protein, 6g fat, 32g carbohydrate
Glycaemic load: 59

  1. 1 large potato
  2. 4 slices pickled beetroot
  3. Quarter of a cucumber
  4. 50g reduced fat Edam
  5. Handful of chives
  6. 1 tpsp. Low fat Greek yoghurt
  7. 1 tbsp. Quark
  8. Freshly ground pepper

To boost the carbohydrate content, use 2 large potatoes to provide 402 kcal and 64g carbohydrate.

Peel and dice the potato and boil in slightly salted water for 10 minutes until cooked but not too soft. Drain and allow to cool. Meanwhile, dice the beetroot, cucumber and Edam into similar sized pieces as the potato. Place all the ingredients in a portable tub, add the cooled potato. Snip the chives over the mixture. Mix in the yoghurt and Quark so everything is thoroughly coated, season with pepper and place in the fridge until ready to take to the gym.

Boiling potatoes makes the starch granules swell and gelatinise making them easier and faster to digest and so raises the GI. On cooling, as in this potato salad, the GI falls a little but too much as to have a significant affect on restoring muscle glycogen levels. The addition of the beetroot has a higher GI, which helps to raise the overall GL score. Potatoes, beetroot and cucumber are all good sources of potassium, which is needed to replace that lost though sweat. Adding pinch of salt to the potato salad will also replace sweated out sodium. The Edam, yoghurt and Quark are all a good source of whey protein allowing muscles to repair and strengthen straight away. The Quark and the yoghurt are virtually fat free and the reduced fat Edam has x% less fat than the ordinary version, but tastes no different. Lastly, beetroots are a surprisingly good source of antioxidants, which helps to protect the body from the oxidative damage caused by hard exercise.

Mediterranean couscous with feta
(Serves 1)
Per portion: 497 kcal, 35g protein, 14g fat, 81g carbohydrate
Glycaemic load: 64

  1. 1x 100g sachet of flavoured couscous
  2. Half a red pepper, sliced into strips
  3. 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
  4. 6 black olives, halved
  5. 60g feta cheese, diced
  6. 1tbsp. raisins
  7. Half a tbsp. pine nuts
  8. Handful of parsley

Make up the couscous according to the packet instructions, place in a portable tub, fluff with a fork and allow to cool. Gently mix in all the ingredients and sprinkle with some chopped parsley. Keep in the fridge until ready to take to the gym.

Couscous has a GI of 65 making it an ideal choice for a post-gym workout. The overall GL is boosted by the addition of the raisins which also have a high GI. Couscous is light and easy to digest so suits people who lose their appetite after a workout and find it hard to eat straight away. Couscous is also a good source of iron more of which is needed by serious athletes as their blood volume expands to meet the demands of growing muscles. The pine nuts are a good source of zinc which will be needed by the muscles as they start to repair and develop. The feta cheese provides easily digestible whey protein and it is fairly salty so will help to replace sodium lost through sweating. There is no need to add extra salt to this dish. The peppers and tomatoes are a good source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that will mop up the free radicals produced during exercise and prevent them from damaging body cells, and the olives and pine nuts both provide essential fats and vitamin E needed to keep the heart and skin healthy.

Chicken Caesar salad wrap
(Serves 1)
Per portion: 324 kcal, 26g protein, 10g fat, 35g carbohydrate
Glycaemic load: 65

  1. 1 large tortilla wrap
  2. 2 tbsp. tzatziki
  3. 50g skinless chicken fillet
  4. 2 tbsp. flaked Parmesan
  5. Half a gem lettuce, shredded

Pre heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 5. Place the chicken in a non-stick baking dish, cover with foil and oven bake for 15 minutes, until cooked through. Allow to cool and cut into bite-sized pieces. Spread the tzatziki over the tortilla, then add the chicken pieces, lettuce and parmesan. Roll up the tortilla to form a wrap and then wrap in foil and place in the fridge until ready to take to the gym.

Refined wheat products, like white bread and tortilla wraps, tend to have very high GIs. Wraps provide more carbohydrate than two slices of bread in a straight forward sandwich and are less likely to go soggy or fall apart when you want to eat it. The whey protein here is provided by the tzatziki and the Parmesan cheese. Although the Parmesan is high in fat, only a little is added, to enhance the flavour. Chicken, although it doesn’t contain whey protein, is fairly light and easy to digest and will compliment the amino acids provided by the tzatziki and cheese, to help repair and build the muscles. The lettuce provides potassium to replace sweat losses, while the Parmesan contains enough salt to top up sodium levels.

Brie and grape baguette
(Serves 1)
Per portion: 495 kcal, 29g protein, 16g fat, 73g carbohydrate
Glycaemic load: 74

  1. 120g (6 inch length) French bread
  2. Low fat spread
  3. 75g reduced fat Brie
  4. 1 celery stick, thinly sliced
  5. 12 seedless black grapes, halved

Cut the French bread open lengthways and thinly spread each half with a little low fat spread. Place the slices of Brie on one half, followed by the celery and grapes. Place the second half of bread on top and wrap in foil, place in the fridge until ready to take to the gym.

French bread has the highest GI of all breads due to the finely milled flour used to make it. Eating a big hunk of baguette after a workout is one of the quickest ways to restore glycogen levels in the body, but it can seem dry and boring to eat unless you add a creamy filling which is full of fat. To get around this problem, use the freshest bread you can find, fresh French bread is much easier to eat than if it’s a day old. Then add a smear of low fat spread and a soft creamy cheese like Brie, the reduced fat versions are x% lower in fat. A ripe runny Brie means you wont need to add to much spread or mayo. The Brie provides the whey protein for muscle repair. The celery adds crunch and is a good source of potassium to replace sweat losses. The grapes have a medium GI so will help to replenish glycogen stores and they also provide some vitamin C and other antioxidants that will boost the immune system and keep the body healthy.

Spicy tofu rice
(Serves 1)
Per portion: 421 kcal, 31g protein, 5g fat, 87g carbohydrate
Glycaemic load: 75

  1. 1 sachet of boil in the bag rice (approx. 75g)
  2. 75g cooked tofu pieces
  3. 1 small can of pineapple chunks in juice
  4. 1 tbsp. canned sweetcorn
  5. 2 spring onions, diagonally sliced
  6. 1 tbsp. of ginger and soy sauce dressing

Boil the rice according to the packet instructions. When cooked place in a portable tub. Mix in all the other ingredients and place in the fridge until ready to take to the gym.

Normal long grain white rice has a higher GI than other rices such as basmati or brown rice, so using a boil in the bag or a microwave sachet is fine. Along with the rice, the pineapple and the sweetcorn both contain good amounts of high GI carbohydrate which will boost glycogen stores and allow the muscles to heal more quickly and prevent tears and strains. The tofu (derived from soyabeans) contains a protein similar to whey protein that is easily digested and provides amino acids to recovering muscles to help them repair and strengthen. Tofu can taste quite bland, so spice it up with the ginger and soy dressing. The soy is very high in sodium so you only need a little and this will help replace sodium losses through sweating. The other vegetables provide potassium and folate and the pineapple is a good source of vitamin C.