Why & What You Should Eat After a Workout

Andrew Meade

 (Andrew Meade)

Do you eat after working out?

I’ve found two types of people on this matter: the ones who go straight to the smoothie bar for a quick recovery drink or the food phobics who don’t allow themselves to eat after working out.

The immediate eater thinks that since they burnt over 1000 calories, they “deserve” the 500 calorie smoothie when they probably burnt 300. The ones who skip the post-workout meal are afraid of putting in jeopardy their quest to lose weight.

Interviewing experts and in my research, I found the right answer in most instances is to eat after working out. Just be smart and know what and when to eat whether your goal is to lose weight, to improve performance or to get stronger.

Hurry Up!

“It’s the 30 minute recovery window after your workout that your body and muscles are very receptive to restocking and restoring fluids and nutrients. We break muscles during exercise and then resting and refueling allowing those muscles to grow back and stronger than they were before,” explains Lauren Anonucci, Registered Dietitian, Board Certified Specialist in Sports and President of Nutrition Energy in NYC .

Post-workout is certainly a time where you need a good mix of carbohydrates and proteins, but what is the right mix so we don’t end up eating more calories than we just burned? Lona Sandon, MD, RD, and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, suggests that the ratio of carbohydrates to protein should be 3:1. Likewise, it may be worth to add some fluids to the mix for electrolyte balance, particularly when high intensity-long duration exercise has been performed.

Andrea Hacker Thompson, MS, RD, of the ACSM Fit Society Page, points out that the carbohydrate-to-protein ratio should be 2:1 in short, low-to moderate intensity workouts or 3:1 in long, high intensity training.

Some of the options that the experts suggest are:

a) Breakfast: Peanut butter with a whole wheat bread and a glass of 100 percent juice with no added sugars. Yogurt with some fruit. Whole wheat toast with egg and fruit.

b) Lunch: Green garden salad with chicken or a hard-boiled eggs. Pasta with tomato sauce and chicken.

c) Dinner: Baked potato, beans, quinoa, steamed veggies and lean meat, chicken, tofu or fish.

The message here is to make sure that you include a source of both protein and carbohydrates. Anonucci points out that fat is important to include in our diet but not in recovery food.

But, I Want to Lose Weight

You may get the protein/carbohydrate ratio and the importance of eating after working out but still people are afraid to eat while being on a diet. Studies show that after exercise is when your muscles use the energy for nourishment rather than fat storage. So, if there is ever a time where you can take advantage of having a decent amount of carbohydrates such as bread, potato, rice, pasta, it’s this time of the day. Just be sure to add lean protein to the mix while keeping the fat low.

Sandon says that the post-workout meal is important weather you want to put on muscle mass or if you need to lose weight. In this case, the post exercise meal should be considered as a part of your diet plan and not as an additional meal.

“If you had lunch at noon, and exercise at 2, there’s plenty of fuel still remaining and you probably don’t need to eat right away. Wait until your next meal, especially if you want to lose weight. But if you’re going to the gym at 5, the post workout meal is really important,” said Sandon.

On this regard, Antonucci strongly recommend to have 100, 150 or 200 calories after working out. 

“I can guarantee you that if try to save the calories by skipping this meal, you’ll consume more calories in the day. There are also studies that show that by doing so, you can save way more, like 200, 300 or 400 calories later in the day.”

The bottom line is your post-workout meal should include some carbohydrate and protein (2:1 or 3:1). If you are in a rush, grab a Muscle Milk (small box), Gatorade G Series Fit 03 Recover (110 calories) or a Power Bar. 

However, if you can have wholesome real food, even better, not just for your body but also for your wallet, remember after working out the foods that you eat are best processed for the body than any other time of the day. 

Train smart, eat smart!

Marta Montenegro inspires people to live healthy lives by giving them the tools and strength to find one’s inner athlete through her personal website She created SOBeFiT, a national fitness magazine for men and women, and the Montenegro Method DVD workout series – a program she designed for getting results in just 21 days by exercising 21 minutes a day . Marta is a strength and conditioning coach and serves as an adjunct professor of exercise physiology at Florida International University.

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