How many calories should I eat after a workout to gain muscle?

When it comes to gaining muscle, nutrition is just as important as your training. Consuming the right number of calories and macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat) around your workouts can maximize muscle growth.

This article provides a detailed, research-based answer on how many calories you should aim to eat after a workout to support muscle building.

How Many Calories Do I Need Post-Workout to Build Muscle?

The number of calories you need post-workout depends on a few key factors:

  • Your weight and goals – heavier people need more calories for muscle gain than lighter individuals
  • The duration and intensity of your workout – longer or harder workouts burn more calories and require greater replenishment
  • Your total daily calorie needs – this establishes your calorie budget for the entire day

As a general guideline, aim to consume:

  • 300-500 calories post-workout if you weigh under 180 pounds (82 kg)
  • 500-700 calories post-workout if you weigh over 180 pounds

However, many experts recommend determining your total daily calorie needs first, then building your post-workout meal around 10-20% of that number.

Calculate Your Total Daily Calorie Needs

Here’s how to estimate the total calories you need daily to maximize muscle growth:

  1. Multiply your body weight (in pounds) by 15. This gives you a rough calorie maintenance level.
  2. Add 500 calories if you want to gain 1 pound per week or add 1000 calories for 2 pounds per week.

For example, a 160 pound person would do:

  • 160 x 15 = 2,400 (maintenance calories)
  • 2,400 + 500 = 2,900 (calories to gain 1 pound per week)

Once you know your total daily calorie target, taking 10-20% of this number will give you a suitable calorie amount for your post-workout meal.

Using the example above, 20% of 2,900 calories would be around 580 calories for the post-workout meal.

Optimal Nutrient Ratio for Post-Workout Calories

In addition to calories, the nutrient breakdown of your post-workout meal matters:

  • Protein: Aim for 20-40g of protein, which helps repair and rebuild muscle tissue.
  • Carbohydrates: Choose higher glycemic carbs like white rice or potatoes to replenish muscle glycogen after training.
  • Fat: Limit to around 15-25% of your total calories from healthy unsaturated fats.

Some sample post-workout meal nutrient ratios could be:

  • 40g protein, 80g carbs, 10g fat (500 calories)
  • 60g protein, 100g carbs, 15g fat (700 calories)

Optimal Timing for Your Post-Workout Meal

Consuming a mix of protein and carbohydrates within 45 minutes to 2 hours after your workout ends is recommended to:

  • Take advantage of increased blood flow and nutrient delivery to muscles
  • Restock glycogen stores before they are significantly depleted
  • Support increased rates of muscle protein synthesis

This ensures the nutrients from your post-workout meal are being properly utilized for repair, recovery and growth.

Sample Post-Workout Meals

Here are some balanced meal examples to give you an idea of what a good post-workout meal might look like:

Light Post-Workout Meal (400-500 Calories)

  • 8 ounces chicken breast – 200 calories, 40g protein
  • 1 medium sweet potato – 100 calories, 25g carbs
  • 1 cup mixed vegetables – 50 calories, 5g carbs
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil – 120 calories, 14g fat

Moderate Post-Workout Meal (600-700 Calories)

  • 8 ounces salmon – 340 calories, 40g protein
  • 1.5 cups cooked rice – 300 calories, 60g carbs
  • 1 cup mixed vegetables – 50 calories, 5g carbs
  • 1 tablespoon butter – 100 calories, 12g fat

Large Post-Workout Meal (800-900 Calories)

  • 8 ounces beef – 380 calories, 60g protein
  • 2 cups sweet potato – 220 calories, 50g carbs
  • 1.5 cups mixed vegetables – 75 calories, 10g carbs
  • 1.5 tablespoons olive oil – 180 calories, 20g fat

Pre- and Post-Workout Meal Tips for Muscle Gain

Here are some additional best practices for your meals around workouts:

  • Have a pre-workout snack or meal 1-2 hours before training providing carbs and protein.
  • Drink a post-workout protein shake immediately after your workout, then eat a full meal within 1-2 hours.
  • If trying to gain weight, consider adding extra carbs from rice, pasta or potatoes to your post-workout meals.
  • Eat a mix of fast and slow digesting proteins pre- and post-workout for sustained amino acid delivery.

Sample Strength Training Workout Routines

To maximize the benefits of your post-workout nutrition, it needs to follow an effective workout routine. Here are some sample strength training plans:

3 Day Full Body Workout Split

Do this routine 3 days per week, resting at least 1 day between sessions:

Exercise Sets Reps
Squats 3 8-10
Bench Press 3 8-10
Barbell Rows 3 8-10
Overhead Press 3 8-10
Deadlifts 2 5

4 Day Upper/Lower Split

Do this routine 4 days per week, resting 1-2 days between:

Day 1: Upper Body Day 2: Lower Body
  • Bench Press – 3×5
  • Overhead Press – 3×5
  • Bent Over Rows – 3×5
  • Bicep Curls – 3×8-10
  • Tricep Extensions – 3×8-10
  • Squats – 3×5
  • Deadlifts – 3×5
  • Leg Press – 3×8-10
  • Leg Curls – 3×8-10
  • Calf Raises – 3×10-12
Day 3: Upper Body Day 4: Lower Body
  • Incline Bench Press – 3×5
  • Pull Ups – 3×5
  • Seated Rows – 3×5
  • Lateral Raises – 3×8-10
  • Bicep Curls – 3×8-10
  • Front Squats – 3×5
  • Romanian Deadlifts – 3×5
  • Leg Press – 3×10-12
  • Leg Extensions – 3×10-12
  • Seated Calf Raises – 3×12-15

Other Recovery Strategies to Maximize Muscle Growth

While nutrition is critical, other recovery methods can also enhance muscle building when combined with proper post-workout meal planning:

  • Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours per night of quality sleep to promote muscle protein synthesis.
  • Hydration: Drink enough non-diuretic fluids daily and replace electrolytes lost through sweat.
  • Active Recovery: Do light cardio, stretching, foam rolling or massage between intense lifting days.
  • Take Rest Days: Avoid training the same muscle groups 2 days in a row. Allow 48 hours between working the same muscles.
  • Manage Stress: High cortisol levels can negatively impact muscle growth and recovery. Control stress through meditation, yoga, music or other relaxation techniques.


Consuming a post-workout meal containing 20-40g protein and higher glycemic carbs in the 45 minutes to 2 hours after you train is optimal to take advantage of the muscle growth window.

Aim for between 300-500 calories if under 180 pounds or 500-700 calories if over 180 pounds. Time your post-workout nutrition around your workout schedule and determine appropriate calorie targets based on your total daily needs.

Pair your workout nutrition plan with plenty of sleep, hydration, active recovery and stress management techniques to maximize your gains.

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