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What To Eat After A Workout: A Spiced Pumpkin Smoothie Recipe

What To Eat After A Workout: A Spiced Pumpkin Smoothie Recipe

What's the best way to recover after a workout? After researching proteins, carbs and post-exercise recovery, Angela Foo crafted this Spiced Pumpkin Smoothie that fits the bill.

After a hard workout, it’s important to refuel your body with proper nutrition. You don’t want to eat too much or binge on unhealthful foods that will set you back; you also don’t want to eat so little that your body won’t be able to re-energize and restore.

This Pumpkin Spiced Smoothie is a great post-exercise meal or addition to a light meal, and can be customized depending on your individual caloric and nutrient needs. To make this smoothie a delicious snack, simply cut the recipe in half or divide it into 2 servings. You can also decrease calories, fat, and protein by using  1-2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds instead of 3 ½.  

And why is this recipe especially suited to fit into your post-workout regimen?  Check out the rest of the blog below on post-exercise nutrition.

Post-Workout Spiced Pumpkin Smoothie

Makes 1 21 oz smoothie

1 medium banana (sliced and frozen)
½ cup pumpkin puree, canned (note, this is 100% pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling)
3 ½ tbsp raw pumpkin seeds, hulled
¾ cup skim milk
½ cup water
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced/grated
3 tbsp instant oatmeal (dry)
½ tsp pumpkin spice (or to taste)

Add all ingredients to a high-speed blender and blend until smooth.

Nutrition Information per Serving:
Calories: 430 kcal
Fat: 16 g
Saturated Fat: 3 g
Fiber: 12 g
Protein: 20 g
Carbohydrates: 60 g
Sodium: 110 mg
Potassium: 990 mg

Post-workout Nutrition

What should you eat after a workout? Of course, this varies from person to person, but it is generally accepted that both carbohydrates and protein should be consumed for optimal exercise recovery.(1,2)

Without a proper post-workout meal or snack, all your hard work and efforts could be going to waste! Yes, exercise does stimulate muscle growth, but it also stimulates muscle protein breakdown.(1,2,3,4,5) If you don’t consume nutritious foods after exercising, your net muscle protein balance can become negative - meaning you’ll be breaking down more muscle proteins than you’re building. In order to achieve positive muscle protein balance (synthesizing more muscle proteins than you’re breaking down) and facilitate muscle building and repair, it is better to consume high-quality protein (containing essential amino acids) shortly after a workout.(1)

Additionally, proper post-workout nutrition is needed to replenish glycogen stores in the body. During moderate to high-intensity exercise, glycogen is the main fuel source for your muscles.(1) Once glycogen is depleted, your performance will suffer and you’ll start to feel fatigued.(5) Glycogen is also essential in the post-exercise recovery process.(4) Carbohydrate intake helps replenish glycogen stores. If glycogen stores are depleted and not enough carbohydrates are available, the body will start to breakdown proteins for fuel - creating an even greater negative muscle protein balance.(5)

Both carbohydrates and protein should be consumed to build muscle and replenish glycogen stores to keep muscles energized.(1,2) Current research suggests that a 3-4g carbohydrate to 1g protein, ratio stimulates both muscle glycogen and muscle protein synthesis and accelerates repletion of glycogen stores. Exercise makes muscles more sensitive to nutrients, causing them to be “most responsive to nutrient intake during the first 30 minutes post-exercise;” however, muscles can remain slightly more sensitized for up to 48 hours after exercise.(5) To achieve the optimal effects from a post-workout meal, it is best to consume them within 3 hours after exercise.(2)


Multiple studies have shown that whey and casein, the proteins in cow's milk, are better at promoting muscle growth and repair than soy proteins.(1,4) In one study, whey protein stimulated muscle protein synthesis 31% more than soy protein.(4) For this reason, in this post-workout smoothie recipe, I've used cow’s milk as one of the protein sources. Soymilk, however, is a great, high-quality plant based protein that can be used instead of cow’s milk for those on vegan or dairy-free diets. It provides virtually the same amount of protein as cow’s milk – 5 grams vs. 6 grams per ¾ cup serving, respectively.

Another study sought to determine the optimal amount of protein to consume post-exercise to maximally stimulate muscle building. After measuring the protein synthesis after consumption of 0, 5, 10, 20, and 40 grams of protein, the study concluded that 20 grams was sufficient to "maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis...after resistance exercise.” Consumption of 40 grams of protein not only did not stimulate significantly greater muscle growth, but it also caused irreversible oxidation.(3) (Furthermore, excess protein in the diet can cause increased acid in the body which would put stress on the kidneys and can lead to decreased function.(6))

Therefore, in order to maximally stimulate muscle growth and repair, consume about 20 grams of protein during the first hours of post-workout recovery.(1) In this recipe, pumpkin seeds, which are a source of plant based protein and healthy fats, are added to reach optimal the protein content.


High glycemic carbohydrates (which are absorbed quickly in the blood) should be consumed shortly after a workout to best replenish glycogen stores in muscles.(1,2) While high glycemic carbohydrates include white bread and russet potatoes, I've used pumpkin and instant oatmeal for this recipe as they also add flavor and other beneficial nutrients.

To achieve that carbs to protein ratio of about 3:1, this post-workout smoothie recipe contains 60 grams of carb and 20 grams of protein to satisfy this ratio and promote optimal gains.

Other Factors

Carbohydrates and proteins aren’t the only factors to consider for post-exercise nutrition. Fluid loss from sweat during exercise can be great, but varies depending on the type of exercise performed. After exercise, it’s important to consume liquids to prevent dehydration. This smoothie is about ~21 oz, which will help you to rehydrate and restore.

Muscle soreness and inflammation often accompany an intense workout. Researchers have studied various ingredients to determine which help to alleviate this pain.(5) One ingredient found to decrease exercise-induced inflammation and delay muscle soreness is fresh ginger. The active chemical components in ginger have been shown to “block the production of inflammatory compounds and inhibit enzymes that increased pain and inflammation in the body.”(5) So, not only does the ginger in this smoothie add great flavor, it also provides functional anti-inflammatory properties.


1. Beelen M et al. Nutritional strategies to promote postexercise recovery. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2010 Dec;20(6):515-32.

2. Kerskick C et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2008, 5:17.

3. Moore DR et al. Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(2):161-168.

4. Poole C et al. The Role of Post-Exercise Nutrient Administration on Muscle Protein Synthesis and Glycogen Synthesis. J Sports Sci Med. 2010 Sep; 9(3): 354–363.

5. Spano M. Postexercise Recovery — Proper Nutrition Is Key to Refuel, Rehydrate, and Rebuild After Strenuous Workouts. Today's Dietitian, 2013 Nov.

6. Pesta DH and Samuel VT. A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2014; 11: 53.

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