You know you’re supposed to refuel and rehydrate after exercise, but what’s the window of time you should do it in? And to maximize exercise results, what should you eat and how much?
Two Reasons to Eat After You Exercise
1: Protein provides the body with amino acids needed for muscle recovery (so you can get buff).
2: You need carbs to replace the energy burned up during your workout (so you don’t pass out when you get home from the gym).
It’s best to eat within one hour of your workout. Remember to count this post-workout snack as one of your 5-6 small daily meals so you don’t exceed your caloric need. Which brings us to the next point…
Proceed to the Kitchen with Caution
I used to go to the Gold’s Gym that’s on the same street as the McDonald’s in Sugar House. I swung by for a “much-deserved” burger after almost every workout. (I should also note that these workouts consisted of nothing more than a 30-minute breeze on the elliptical while I zoned out to Russian language lessons on my iPod.)
No surprise, really, that in these four years of burning a calorie or two at the gym and scarfing a burger to reward myself, I didn’t make a dent in my fitness goals. Rather, I gained weight.
It’s true: you can’t out-cardio a bad diet. Learn from my mistake and resist the temptation to overcompensate for calories burned. When you head to the fridge, take it slow, dish up a small portion and stop eating when you’re 80% full. You might also rehydrate first, since water will fill you up a bit.
What to Eat After Your Workout
A 4:1 carb-to-protein combination, like a protein shake with added fruit or oats, will give you the ideal nutrient mix for recovery. Be sure to eat a serving proportionate to the amount of energy you expended. (In other words, a 15-minute jog around the block isn’t feast-worthy, no matter how ravenous you are.)
What Not to Eat After Your Workout
In addition to the obvious no-no’s (chips, donuts, Big Gulp), new research is steering us away from sugar post-exercise. Get your carbs elsewhere, says Food Consumer: A high-sugar juice, sports drink or candy bar can negate the production of HGH, or human growth hormone, which is one of the main benefits of exercise.
By swinging open the fridge doors with a firm plan, you can avoid what John Cloud calls “the lip-licking anticipation of perfectly salted, golden-brown French fries after a hard trip to the gym.”
Instead, prepare a small meal of carbs and protein within an hour of your workout, and claim the full rewards of your hard work.
Related posts at Ask Fitness Coach:
Timing Your Pre-workout Shake
Prevent Exercise Nausea
The Secret to Maximum Exercise Energy