The 4 Best Workout Recovery Foods, According to Dietitians at Clif Bar

The old saying “abs are made in the kitchen” applies to your shoulders, biceps, and quads too. The right foods will prompt the body to repair, recover, recharge, and get stronger for the next session.

But not all foods are considered equal.

While you may have stacked on heavier weight during your power set to account for the bacon potato biscuits for breakfast, first and foremost after your workout, you need to eat foods that promote recovery.

“Post-workout foods should include carbohydrate to help replenish your muscles’ energy stores and protein to help rebuild and repair your muscles,” says Clif Bar & Company’s Registered Dieticians and Nutrition Strategy team members Jessica Chon and Casey Lewis.

While you’ll always need protein and their amino acids, the amount will depend on the type of workout completed. Here’s a good rule of thumb for the type of post-workout food you’ll need for each type of workout.

  • Strength Training = More Protein
  • Aerobic Exercise = More Carbohydrates
  • Strength + Aerobic = 20g of protein + simple and complex carbohydrates

Protein Bar

Yes, sometimes a protein bar is the perfect recovery fuel. But before reaching for the 50g cookie dough bar at the grocery store, heed Clif’s advice…

“The bar aisle can be confusing! If you want a recovery bar, be on the lookout for options that deliver carbohydrates and protein. Words like ‘high in protein’ and ‘complete protein’ are cues. If on-the-go and in need of a wholesome protein bar, Clif Builder’s and Clif Whey Protein Bar are great options. They start with energizing, organic, whole food ingredients and combine complete proteins with a mix of carbohydrates from sugar and oats.”

Clif Builder’s has 20 grams of protein per bar, while Clif Whey Protein delivers 14 grams (but fewer carbs!).

‘Is 14-20 grams of protein enough after a workout?’

Yes, because you are not The Rock.

Most studies show 20g of protein to be the amount most effective when recovering from a hard workout,” says the Clif team. “However, if you are older than 40, finished a complete, full body workout, or are bigger than the average person, you may need up to 40g of protein after a workout to maximize recovery. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends consuming .3 g of protein/Kg of body weight.”

Grilled Chicken Sandwich

Another post-workout meal the Clif team recommends is a grilled chicken sandwich on a whole grain bun. Add a side salad if you please.

The absolute best foods to eat to promote recovery after a workout are “nutrient-rich, whole food solutions,” Clif Nutritionists say. Chicken, for instance, satisfies both the protein needs and whole food requirements.

“Soy and animal-based foods (meat, dairy, eggs, etc.) are considered ‘complete’ proteins, meaning that they provide all of the essential amino acids your body needs for health,” says the Clif team. “When it comes to recovery, whey protein, in particular, is seen as a great option because it has a high amount of the specific amino acid Leucine. Plant-based proteins beyond soy can also be part of a recovery routine, but they’re considered ‘incomplete’ proteins because they lack one or more of the essential amino acids.

Translation: you need to eat more plant-based protein than animal to have the same recovery results.

Oats and Fruit

In the complex carb department, you don’t get much better than oats and fruits, especially when (as per the equation above) you just completed a tough aerobic exercise like running or swimming.

Sweet Potatoes and Veggies

Other nutrient-dense, whole-food carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and veggies provide energy, vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant nutrients to help fuel your muscles, supporting recovery and overall health.

If you’re training more than once a day, these foods should be essential to your diet along with consuming a recovery fuel 30 minutes after your workout and aiming for 20-30g of protein at each meal.

“The science suggests that this can help bolster recovery, since your body’s ability to build muscle is elevated for 24-hrs after a workout. Also, hydration is key. Active individuals should aim to replace 125-150% of the sweat they lost through their workout – so drink up.


blackened whiskey bottle metallica

Just kidding! Clif experts say alcohol is the worst thing you can consume after a workout. So reach for your bacon biscuit before your mimosa… and try flavoring your mimosa with a Nuun hydration tablet instead of OJ.

“Drink plenty of water and be sure to eat. At the end of the day, the worst thing you can do for recovery is not eat anything,” they say.”

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