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
There are two main reasons to eat after you work out. One: protein provides the body with amino acids needed for muscle recovery. Two: you need carbs to replace the energy burned up during your workout. Jennifer Warner explains that eating a low-carb meal after exercise helps the body pick up sugar from the blood stream and send it to the muscles for fuel.
It’s best to eat within one hour of your workout, and remember to count this 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
This is where some of us get into trouble. Ravenous after a workout, we go for a triple helping of anything we can get our hands on and think we deserve it because we worked out so hard.
I used to go to a Gold’s Gym that was right next-door to a McDonald’s. 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-min. breeze on the elliptical while zoning 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. I gained weight.
It’s true: you can’t out-cardio a bad diet. Learn from my mistake and resist the temptation to overcompensate post-calorie-burn. When you head to the fridge, take it slow, dish up small and stop eating when you’re 80% full. Maybe rehydrate first, as water will fill you up.
What to Eat After Your Workout
A 4:1 combo of carbohydrate and protein, like a protein shake with added fruit or oats, is ideal. Be sure to eat a serving proportionate to the amount of energy you expended (in other words, a 15-minute jog isn’t feast-worthy).
Don’t forget to replace electrolytes lost during your workout, too. I love Joanna’s idea of setting up a “hydration station.”
What Not to Eat After Your Workout
In addition to the obvious no-no’s (chips, donuts, Big Gulp), research is steering us away from sugar. Get your carbs elsewhere, Food Consumer says: A high-sugar juice, sports drink or candy bar can negate the beneficial production of HGH, or human growth hormone.
“You will obliterate the growth hormone response and ruin the major benefit of the workout, which is to increase your growth hormone level,” says Dr. Mercola.
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.