When you exercise, your body uses a great deal of energy in a process commonly referred to as “burning calories.” Calories come from the foods and drinks we consume each day. The sugars and starches they contain are carbohydrates that your body breaks down into glucose. Glucose then becomes your body’s immediate source of fuel, powering functions like breathing and physical activity.
Any unused glucose is sent to your liver and muscles where it’s stored as glycogen. During a workout, your muscles draw on these glycogen reserves to help you do everything from lift weights to go for a quick run.
Here’s why post-workout meals are essential:
- Your body needs fuel to repair and rebuild the muscle tissue that was used and/or damaged.
- You can prevent physical fatigue and keep your mind alert for the rest of the day.
- You’ll experience less muscle soreness and be able to maintain a regular exercise regimen without strain or injury.
An intense workout can potentially burn 1,000 calories or more. Those lost calories must be replenished with nutritious food if you want to increase muscle mass or keep your weight in check.
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Following a not-so-strenuous workout such as a light yoga class, it’s probably unnecessary to eat immediately. But after a moderate to high-intensity session, you’ll want at least a small snack within 15 to 30 minutes. For optimal benefits, be sure to enjoy a full meal no more than two hours after exercising.
Once you’ve decided on when to eat your post-workout meal, you can then determine what you should be eating. Try to stick to foods that contain lean proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
Post-workout meals should always include high-quality proteins and nutrient-rich carbohydrates. Opt for light, healthy options throughout the day.
- Breakfast: oatmeal with sliced almonds, pumpkin seeds, and a side of fresh fruit
- Lunch: tuna nicoise salad with hardboiled eggs and chickpeas, topped with tomatoes, olives, and cucumbers
- Dinner: chicken breast with steamed vegetables on a bed of quinoa
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can still treat yourself to a wholesome, after workout meal free of meat, cheese, or eggs. Veggies and whole grains contain plenty of healthy carbs, while lentils, beans, chickpeas, hemp seeds, and soybeans are great sources of protein.
Need a quick pick-me-up before your next meal? There are countless, guilt-free snacks that you can enjoy on the go:
- A half-cup of plain Greek yogurt packs a double punch of protein and calcium
- One banana offers enough carbs and potassium to aid in muscle repair
- A handful of mixed nuts including almonds, cashews, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds are loaded with fiber to keep you feeling fuller longer
- A smoothie made of spinach, banana, and a scoop of your favorite protein powder helps rehydrate your body
Remember, eating after exercise doesn’t need to be complicated. Even pro basketball players have been known to munch on a good, old-fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich following a big game!
More tips on post-workout nutrition
If you’ve just had an intense, muscle-building workout that involved strength training or weight lifting (both of which combat cellulite), you’ll want a high-protein snack to tide you over.
But how much protein is enough? A good rule of thumb for consuming protein after a workout is 1 gram of protein for every 3 grams of carbohydrates per meal.
Also remember to:
- Stay away from foods that are heavily processed or contain added sugar.
- Drink plenty of water both during and after your workout to remain hydrated.
- Eat the colors of the rainbow by choosing fresh fruits and vegetables in red, green, blue, and orange hues.
- Replenish your body with electrolyte-rich snacks and beverages after major sweat sessions.
- Spend a few minutes stretching after you exercise to relieve tension and significantly reduce the chance of injury.
The bottom line is that exercise and nutrition go hand-in-hand when it comes to leading an active and healthy lifestyle. Check out Flo for more useful tips on the subject, as well as suggestions for modifying your routine when you’re pregnant or on your period.