Breakfast is typically coined the most important meal of the day but, what about your post-workout nutrition? During exercise, your body uses up its stored glycogen, breaks down muscle and loses valuable water. What you eat after exercise is essential to help you recover quickly and completely. Failing to fuel your body adequately post-exercise can lead to fatigue, injury and illness while preventing you from maximizing the potential strength and fitness gains from your hard work. If you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your workouts, this article will show you what to eat after a workout for optimal recovery.
The Benefits of Proper Post-Workout Nutrition
Have you heard people say that progress isn’t made in the gym, it’s what happens afterwards? Sure, you need to be pushing yourself through a 5-mile run or focus to get that last rep out in the weights room, but when it comes to getting fitter and stronger, a lot comes down to recovery.
When we exercise, we actually damage our muscles and spike our hormone levels to signal your body to start to repair itself and become stronger. While we rest, we can recover but to do that well our bodies need the right fuel to restore itself.
Consuming the right types of foods after a workout means that your body’s circulating the nutrients it needs to:
- Build and repair muscle
- Speed up recovery
- Improve your immune function that is compromised by exercise
- Increase bone mass
- Burn more body fat
- Reduce muscle soreness
This results in faster recovery, improved performance and a greater overall health while encouraging the a desirable body composition.
The Role of Eating for Recovery
There are three important elements that post-workout recovery nutrition should focus on:
- Protein synthesis – Exercising causes damage to your muscle fibers on a micro-level. While this is part of the natural process of muscle growth, your body needs protein to rebuild muscle mass and prevent further breakdown.
- Metabolic recovery – Exercising uses fuel, lowering your blood sugar and depleting your glycogen (carb) stores. To give your body the energy it needs for recovery, you need to replenish your glycogen stores.
- Hydration – During exercise your body can lose a lot of water through sweat. This key nutrient is particularly important to prevent dehydration from negatively impacting future exercise sessions.
What to Eat After a Workout
To properly address each of the three core recovery processes above, your post-exercise meal should include:
- Protein – Try to eat 20-25 grams of protein after a workout. Fast absorbing sources of protein are best so think protein shakes or dairy but having a meal with meat or legumes is also fine.
- Carbohydrates – If your stomach can handle it, consuming 20-25 grams of carbohydrates after your workout is ideal to refuel your body. An easy way to do this is by having some fruit but whole grains and vegetables are also ideal. If you struggle to eat straight after a workout, eating carbs up to 4 hours after exercise is still beneficial.
- Water – Even if you’ve been drinking throughout your workout, have another large glass of water with your post-workout meal to ensure you’re well hydrated.
Timing Your Meals for Recovery
After your workout, your body is primed to accept the nutrients needed to help repair and grow muscles. Although professionals have different opinions on how long this ‘window of opportunity’ lasts, aim to eat within 30 minutes of finishing a workout.
There’s no need to worry about eating after taking the dog for a short walk or riding your bike to the store. However, if you’re doing moderate to high intensity exercise for 30 minutes or more, always refuel with a snack afterwards.
I find it useful to plan my workouts to be finished just before I’d normally have a meal or a snack. This stops you from feeling like you have to eat when you’re not hungry or adding extra calories which could be detrimental if you’re trying to lose weight.
Ideal Post-Workout Snacks
To help your body to recover well, serve any one of these snacks with a glass of water:
- Protein shake with a banana
- Greek yogurt with berries and nuts
- 2 eggs on wholegrain toast
- Sweet potato and grilled chicken
- Tuna wholegrain wrap
- Bliss balls with added protein
As with anything to do with health and fitness, it’s never just one single thing that makes all the difference. If you’re working out hard and paying attention to your post-workout nutrition, don’t neglect the rest of your diet. Include plenty of nutrient rich fruits and vegetables as well as omega-3’s to help your body to recover between workouts.
But, now that you know what to eat after a workout, I want to hear from you! What are your favorite post-workout recovery fueling snacks? Let me know by commenting below!