Is There a Best Post-Workout Food for Putting on Muscle?

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Right after your workout is a critical time for repairing damaged muscle fibers and quickly replenishing muscle glycogen, the stored form of carbs in the body that is used as fuel during workouts. Research indicates that certain foods are more effective than others in stimulating muscle growth and enhancing recovery after workouts.


Consuming carbs after workouts serves two main functions. First, it replenishes depleted muscle glycogen, which not only refuels you for your next workout, but also creates a muscle building environment inside muscle cells. Second, it releases insulin, a hormone that stops muscle breakdown and when combined with protein starts the muscle building process. Lead author Luc Loon and colleagues from Maastricht University in the Netherlands discovered that 0.8 grams of carbs per pound of body weight after workouts maximizes post exercise muscle glycogen synthesis, according to research published in the July 2000 issue of the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.” Consume fast-digesting carbs, such as white bread, white rice, gummy bears and sports drinks to quickly refill muscle glycogen post workout.

Whey Protein

Ingesting whey protein post exercise might also have positive effects on muscle growth. Researchers from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom found that subjects ingesting whey protein after exercise experienced increases in muscle protein synthesis, or the buildup of muscle proteins inside muscle cells, the January 2007 issue of the “American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism” reports.

Skim Milk

Rehydration after exercise is essential for muscle gain, since dehydration slows down the muscle growth process and impedes muscle recovery. Lead author Susan Shirreffs and researchers from Loughborough University in the United Kingdom discovered that skim milk produced better improvements in rehydration after exercise than water or Powerade, according to research reported in the August 2007 issue of the “British Journal of Nutrition.”


Eating cherries post workout might reduce muscle damage and pain associated with exercise. This in turn can enhance muscle recovery and allow your muscles to grow back bigger and stronger than before. In a study published in the June 2006 issue of the “British Journal of Sports Medicine,” researchers discovered that subjects drinking cherry juice before and after exercise induced muscle damage exercises experienced less muscle damage compared to those receiving a placebo.

Putting it All Together

To reap the most benefits from post-workout foods, put them together. For example, add cherry juice to a shake made with whey protein and skim milk. Consuming your post-workout food within 30 minutes of the end of your workout is optimal, according to the official position of the American College of Sports Medicine, published in the March 2009 issue of "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise."