Regardless of what it is, food helps with muscle repair and recovery. Proteins are going to be the most helpful with muscle repair, while carbs will help recover your glycogen stores that your body used during exercise. Even if you are trying to lose weight, you should eat something after a workout. It is hard to explain the benefit to even just a small snack immediately after a workout for your recovery and energy levels moving forward.
No you don’t have to pour protein powder down your throat following a workout. You get protein throughout the entire day, but immediately following exercise it will help to stimulate muscle synthesis. The dietary reference intake says you should eat .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. To give you a little reference, ½ a normal sized skinless chicken breast has around 30 grams of protein. Although, if you are trying to build a bunch of muscle or get “toned” you should almost be trying to eat your weight in grams of protein over the course of a day.
Long story short; a balanced snack or meal that is high in protein and healthy carbs immediately following exercise will increase the impact of your workout.