When it comes to figuring out how to properly refuel your body after a workout, it may be hard to sift through all the recommendations, research, and fads that seem to propagate the fitness space. Is it a 2 to 1, 3 to 1, or 4 to 1 carb to protein ratio you should aim for? Is vegan protein powder as effective as whey? What is glycogen and how do you replace it?

If you’re looking for answers to your most pressing refueling questions, don’t miss this quick guide:

Why Refuel After a Workout?

You know how important it is to rehydrate during and after a workout to replace the fluids your body loses, but what about replacing the “energy” it lost? The cells in your body are what function to provide you energy. In order to function properly, however, they need several things including sugar, or glucose.

When you complete moderate to high-intensity workouts, your body looks to your bloodstream for glucose. It transports it to your cells, and whammy, energy. But what happens when there is no sugar left in your blood? Well, then your body looks to your liver. And once your liver is depleted of sugar, it goes for your skeletal muscles.

The sugar in these muscles is called glycogen. As you push yourself harder and harder in training or during a game, your body uses up the glycogen to keep you going. In addition to that, your heart rate increases to circulate more and more blood around your body and you take faster, deeper breaths to keep up adequate oxygen supply to your organs and muscles.

Once you run out of glycogen, you hit the proverbial wall. That’s a good thing, however, it then becomes extremely pertinent to replace that glycogen and give your body the protein it needs to start repairing tissue, rebuilding muscle, and reestablishing sufficient blood flow to muscles to flush out built-up waste byproducts (lactic acid) and deliver much-needed oxygen.

What is the Best Way to Refuel After a Workout?

Research has shown that consuming high glycemic high carbohydrate foods within 30 minutes of finishing up intense exercise gives your body the best chance of replenishing glycogen levels to aid muscle recovery. Continuing supplementation with more helpful food and drink is recommended every 2 hours for up to 4 or 6 hours after your workout.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition also shares guidelines in their position stand on “Nutrient Timing” that highlight the importance of consuming protein (with complete free amino acid profiles) to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, or the biochemical function of your body repairing and strengthening fibers in your muscle.

A carb to protein ratio of 3 – 4:1 has been shown to maximally promote glycogen resynthesis to increase performance during endurance exercise and consistent, prolonged resistance training is best aided by varying doses of carbs and protein in the hours following exercise.

Vegan vs. Whey Protein

When you finish toning your arms with resistance bands, lifting weights, or doing cardio work (like running), you may look to a protein powder shake for your refueling needs. The neat thing about protein powders is that they offer you a huge dose of amino acids in addition to carbs, helping you consume some of the critical components your body needs for productive recovery.

Whey protein is a byproduct created when milk is curdled and made into yogurt. It contains complete proteins and has long been promoted as the essential supplement for building muscle and losing weight.

New vegan protein powders have begun to grow in popularity, however, as they offer similar benefits to people who do not consume animal protein sources. Plant-based and often derived from foods like brown rice, peas, and pumpkins, vegan protein contains a mixture of amino acids that when combined, forms a complete protein. Added benefits like antioxidants that are also found in plants have made vegan protein powders more and more attractive to athletes of various sports.

Research is still being conducted to measure the efficacy of vegan protein powders compared to whey but some early studies are showing it can be beneficial, especially for vegan and vegetarian athletes who want a quick, filling refueling snack after a workout.

Additional carb and protein-rich refueling snack ideas include peanut butter and honey on toast, a glass of milk, dried or fresh fruit, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, cheese sticks, apple slices and almond butter, beef jerky, cottage cheese, and carrots and crackers with hummus dip.

Final Thoughts

Improving your recovery rate with thoughtful, quick refueling after a workout does more than just help you boost muscle tone. Your overall athletic performance and ability to progress forward with your training can also benefit.