You have made the time to eat well before heading to the gym and even found the workout that feels the best for you. You feel energized, like you are getting in shape, and even starting to reach your goals. So what might you be missing? Have you given any thought to what to reach for after your exercise? Most people think more about their pre-workout meal, than their post-workout meal. But the truth is that what you consume after exercise is just as important as what you eat before your workout.
Participating in a workout regimen, or any physical activity, takes a toll on your body. It is not only about the results you get when working out that matter, but about what happens in your body while you are exercising. The fact is that while you are exercising, your muscles will use up their glycogen stores as a source of fuel. When this occurs the muscles often wind up being partially depleted of glycogen. At the same time, many of the proteins in your muscles wind up damaged and broken down.
Following a workout the body naturally tries to rebuild its glycogen stores, and repair and regrow the proteins that are in the muscles. For this reason, it is important to eat the right foods after you exercise to help your body to rebound. When choosing what to eat as a post-workout meal or snack it is especially important to eat a combination of carbohydrates and proteins.
The post-workout meal will be critical in aiding your body in decreasing muscle protein breakdown, increasing muscle protein growth, restoring glycogen stores, and enhancing recovery. This meal will help to stimulate the growth of new muscle, allowing you to see the benefits of your workout regimen.
When looking at the best meal or snack options it is important to consider the role of protein, carbohydrate and fat. The protein will provide your body with the amino acids that are needed to repair and rebuild proteins, as well as building new muscle tissue. It is recommended to consume the protein within 30 to 45 minutes after a workout to allow the body to repair itself. Carbohydrates will replenish the depleted glycogen stores that were used up as fuel. Endurance sports will use up more glycogen stores than resistance and strength training. To get the proper results it is recommended to replace these stores within 30 minutes of after training. Glycogen synthesis also has been shown to work more effectively when carbohydrate and protein are paired together, with a recommended ratio of 3:1 carbohydrates versus proteins. While fats may slow down the absorption of your post workout meal, they have not been found to have any adverse affects on the benefits of this meal.
Now that you understand why the post-workout meal or snack is important, it's time to start thinking about what might hit the spot. Try some of these great options to feed your body and maximize your results.
Post Workout Meals/Snacks Ideas
- Tuna fish on whole grain crackers
- Grilled chicken & veggies in a pita
- Avocado on whole grain toast with a poached egg
- Oatmeal with almonds and bananas - Try these oat bars
- Rice cakes with almond or peanut butter
- Fruit smoothie made with a banana and peanut butter
- Cottage cheese and fruit
- Greek yogurt, berries and nuts
- Salmon and brown rice
- Chicken and vegetables
- Greek yogurt and fruit
- Whole wheat sandwich wrap with turkey
- Whole grain cereal and milk
- Orange slices and almonds
- Smoothie made with avocado, berries and plain yogurt - Try this: Blueberry-Banana and Cacao Smoothie Bowl
- Hummus and whole grain crackers
- Black beans, brown rice and vegetables
Let's not forget that while you are thinking about the perfect post-workout foods to eat, be sure to stay hydrated as well. It is extremely important to keep hydrated before, during, and after a workout to provide the best internal environment for your body. Choosing water or an electrolyte drink will help to replace the fluids lost by your body through sweating.
M Mittler, MS Registered Dietitian