Should You Eat After a Workout?

Many folks tackling a regular workout routine are just as confused about what and when to eat post-workout as those wondering about pre-workout diets. Once again, we offer advice on proper nutritional requirements after exercise sessions.

It’s All About Recovery

Eating post-workout is based on one important factor: recovery. Replacing the nutrients lost from a workout is essential to restoring your body to healthy function. Also, your body absorbs these nutrients best right after exercise.

You should eat within the first 15 minutes after a workout because that’s when the body is most receptive to absorbing the enzymes necessary to muscle recovery. The longer you wait, the longer it will take for you to recover. For the best results, you should intake the proper nutritional requirements 15-30 minutes directly following your workout session. You should wait no longer than 1 hour post-workout to eat.

Important Replacement Foods

The two most important nutrients which need to be consumed after a workout are protein and carbohydrates. Protein is broken down into amino acids that are vital in muscle tissue growth and repair. Carbohydrates replenish lost energy stores. These two elements eaten together appear to provide greater results than simply focusing on the intake of one. One study of athletes showed a 100% rise in muscle glycogen storage levels in those who consumed both protein and carbohydrates compared to those who just ate carbs. That same study suggests the best formula appears to be a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein intake post-workout.

Although not technically a food, water is the main element that needs to be consumed post-workout. Water transports the amino acids from protein and the re-energizing carbs throughout the body where they are needed. Water also aids maximum absorption and muscle hydration as well as immune system stimulation.

Supplying protein, carbs, and water directly after a workout is especially critical for those who engage in high intensity workouts on a regular basis (more than 3 times per week). Such vigorous exercise programs cause greater losses, and therefore require more replenishment of these vital nutrients in order to adequately recover. Those who perform lighter bouts of exercise only 2-3 times per week have more ample time for nutrient intake and recovery.

What to Avoid Eating Post-Workout

In order to achieve proper recovery, there are certain foods that should be avoided after an exercise session. You could have sports drinks during a workout, but avoid them post-workout. This is due to them containing large amounts of sugar. Have fresh fruit juice (without sugar) after exercising which supplies the necessary carbs to pick you up.

Heavy meals and fatty foods are also on the no-no list for post-workout consumption. Both are difficult for the body to digest and bog down your system in a time when it needs to be lifted up and energized. Add some lean turkey to a bagel, or drink a protein-rich glass of milk. However, keep meals at small portions with a “fist-sized” portion being the suggested norm.

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