Have you ever finished an absolutely rocking workout and then a few hours later either fallen asleep or felt so hungry you could eat a horse? If you knew what to eat after exercise, you could avoid both of these situations!
Let’s think first about what happens inside your body while you’re exercising.
Your body needs energy to fuel your workouts. The energy your body uses to fuel your workouts comes mostly in the form of glycogen. Glycogen is metabolized and stored carbohydrates. Some glycogen is stored in your muscles. This is the main source of fuel when you’re exercising.
Exercise requires your muscles to work harder than normal, resulting in microscopic breakdown of proteins in your muscle fibers. This is a good thing! It is in repairing these muscle fibers that you gain strength.
After your workout finishes, your body has two main jobs: replace glycogen stores and repair muscle.
These two main jobs require two different nutrients– carbohydrates to replace glycogen (and keep up your energy levels) and protein to repair muscle.
Keep in mind you’ll want to eat a ratio of about 3 grams carbs to 1 gram protein for the optimal post-workout nutrition balance. This ratio changes slightly based on the type of exercise you do. An endurance cardio workout like running, swimming, or biking uses more carbs than a strength training session.
Now we can better understand what to eat after exercise.
Need some food for thought? Here are 5 great post-workout snacks.
- Peanut Butter (or other Nut Butter) on a Banana
- Scrambled egg and whole wheat toast
- Tuna and multigrain crackers (BONUS: topped with avocado)
- Cottage Cheese with fruit
- 8-12 ounces Chocolate milk
Each of those post-workout snack options gives you a balance of carbs and protein. By eating them within 30 minutes of finishing your workout, you’re setting your body up for a speedy recovery. (If you ate a meal before your workout, you can go as long as an hour afterwards without eating. Your body will still reap the benefits of the glycogen and protein synthesis.) Don’t forget to hydrate, too!
By knowing what to eat after exercise– and eating it!– you’ll stave off the post-workout energy slump and reduce the likelihood of a binge eating session later in the day. Talk about keeping your body well-balanced!