After a good workout, people are often pretty hungry and their impulse can be to grab whatever food is convenient and scarf it down. Although this is understandable, it’s also unproductive: Eating the wrong thing after a workout can wipe out the all the benefits of working out in the first place.
With this in mind, it is important to have a great post-workout meal planned and ready, or at least know what to eat in a pinch.
When to Eat
“When” you eat is just as important as “how much” and “what” you eat. Let’s cover each one…
If a full meal is not in your immediate plans, then it’s best to eat a smaller meal directly after a workout (no more than 30 minutes) because you body’s metabolism is on overdrive. This will help replenish the energy sources your body has depleted during the workout. Plus, a smart post-workout snack will definitely help you recover more quickly.
In addition, because you will be hungrier after your workout, eating a smaller post-workout snack will help decrease your hunger later, and make it less likely that you would overeat at your next full meal.
If a full meal is in your immediate plans within an hour of completing your workout, skip the snack if you can and just take your regular meal as planned to avoid taking in too many unnecessary calories.
How Much to Eat
This depends on whether the person is eating an entire meal, or simply trying to “take the edge off” until their next large, sit-down meal. If the post-workout meal is a normal meal, then it should be what you would consider a “regular” meal. That means not eating extra because of the recent workout.
The goal should be to satisfy hunger, not to make up (or correlate to) the calories burned during your workout. The focus should be on maintaining your optimal caloric intake for the day, regardless of your most recent workout.
If the post-workout food is more of a snack, then it should take the edge off the hunger while being as calorie conscious as possible. A couple pieces of fruit might do the trick or a meal replacement bar. More on this in the next section…
What to Eat
The three major categories of a good post-workout snack or meal are carbs, fats and proteins. Other supplementary minerals and vitamins can be considered, but only after those three staples are covered.
An example of a good snack that would cover all three bases is a couple slices of whole wheat bread with peanut butter. For those looking for the simplest possible option, meal-replacement bars are usually packed with protein, and have enough fat and carbohydrates to cover a hungry athlete’s needs.
In an emergency, believe it or not, chocolate milk is also a good post-workout “meal replacement,” and it can be swilled back on the go, if necessary.
Of course, if it’s time for a meal after working out, more variety can be included. A lean cut of meat, like fish or chicken breast, plus sautéed vegetables in light oil would be an excellent combination.
Find Out More
This topic of nutrition is vitally important to us at fitness professionals, and we encourage everyone to learn as much as they can, as every individual has different dietary needs and considerations.
If you would like to learn more, please contact Carlene Thomas, RD, LD, who provides private nutritional counseling to CFC clients at a 15% discount. You can visit her website to find out more or get her contact information.