Diet and exercise are two crucial aspects of fit living, so it’s understandable that they’re closely related. What you eat impacts how effectively your body handles exercise, and how you exercise affects what your body does with the nutrients it gets from food. Therefore, it’s important to consider how your meals and snacks are enhancing your workout routine. What you eat before a workout to prepare yourself for activity is worth planning, but so is what you eat after working up a sweat. Here’s a primer on what you should eat after exercising and why it’s important.
What your body needs
After your pre-workout snack, your muscles store that excess energy in the form of glycogen and protein. While you’re breaking a sweat on the treadmill or pumping weights, your body uses those energy stores to fuel itself. When you’re finished with your workout, those glycogen and protein stores are depleted and your muscles begin breaking down. Luckily, this is when your body is most likely to absorb carbohydrates and protein, which is what makes those two nutrients so essential after a workout. They refill your energy stores, build and repair your muscles and keep your metabolism on track.
When to eat
The sooner you eat after a workout, the better. According to Shape magazine, research has shown that your body’s ability to refill muscle stores decreases by 50 percent if you wait to eat two hours after your workout instead of right after it. Your body is most responsive to the carbs and protein you eat within a 45-minute window, noted Men’s Fitness magazine, so plan your workouts and meal times accordingly.
Now that you know carbs and protein are the most important nutrients your body needs after exercise, it's time to figure out which snacks or meals are best to munch on after your gym sessions. Here are some meal preparation ideas to get you started on the right track.
- Protein shake: Bringing a protein shake to the gym with you is an easy way to replenish your energy supplies and help your muscles recover. Mix a scoop of protein powder, almond milk, 1/2 a banana and some chia seeds in a blender.
- Whole-wheat sandwich wrap: The whole grains in the wrap will provide you with carbs, while you can add protein with turkey, chicken or peanut butter. This is a great option if you like to work out during your lunch break and eat afterward.
- Eggs and whole-grain toast: Eggs are packed with protein, and toast will offer carbs to refuel your muscles. If you like working out before breakfast, this meal is quick to make and satisfying.
- Fruit salad: Fruits have good-for-you carbs, and Men's Fitness added that they're loaded with enzymes to help your body break down nutrients so they can be delivered to your muscles faster. Many fruits are also bursting with free radical-fighting antioxidants.
- Greek yogurt: Plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit on top makes a tasty post-workout snack. It has tons of protein and carbs to keep you going.