After you trash your muscles in a grueling strength-training or endurance workout, you need quality protein to minimize muscle breakdown and stimulate muscle growth, as well as carbs to refuel energy stores, says Jordan Mazur, R.D., coordinator of nutrition and team dietitian for the San Francisco 49ers.
"Traditionally we've heard there's a post-workout 'anabolic window' in which you must consume food or protein powder within—and if you miss that window, you lose your gains," Mazur says. "But that’s not necessarily true. Recent research suggests as long as you meet your daily protein requirements, spread throughout the day, you can maximize muscle.
Same goes for carbs. You want to eat a normal amount of carbs throughout the day to reload your glycogen stores by the time you hit your next workout.
"Keeping your muscle stores full of glycogen is important for strength training, too; it improves performance and research shows low glycogen levels can accelerates exercise-induced muscle breakdown," Mazur adds.
Bottom line: Make sure you're getting 30-40g of protein post-workout (or at least 20g). Aim to eat leucine-rich protein foods (the amino acid is found in eggs, chicken, etc.). Include quality carbs, especially after long aerobic work to refill those energy stores befor your next workout.
Here are 10 optimal meals and snacks to help you refuel and recover.