Fueling after workouts is one of the most important pieces to sports nutrition, yet I often times see it as the most neglected. Fueling your body with the carbohydrates, protein, and fluids it needs will help you recover fully and prepare you for your next workout. Prolonging post-workout refueling stalls your body into a "breakdown" mode, taking longer to recover once you actually do eat. Here are some very brief nutrition tips on what to eat and drink after workouts, how much, and proper timing. These are general recommendations to create a basic understanding of your needs after workouts.
Intense exercise depletes most of your stored carbohydrates. Have you heard of "glycogen"? Think of it as energy for your muscles - and without this muscle glycogen, your muscles won't have that fuel source it needs to perform at your maximum potential. Glycogen is restored with carbohydrates. I cringe when an athlete tells me post-workout they "just mix whey protein powder with water". Although protein plays a very important role in the repairing of muscles, without adequate carbohydrates this recovery process is not very sufficient.
- Carb recommendation: 0.5 g/kg body weight within 30 minutes…then an additional 1.5 g/kg body weight within 2 hours
- divide your body weight in pounds by 2.2 to convert to kilograms (kg).
- Examples: fruit, oats, quinoa, rice, pasta, bread, granola, granola bar, dry cereal, potatoes
Protein is key post-workout to help repair muscle tissue and reduce muscle breakdown after exercise. Protein powders are handy for people who don't have much of an appetite post-workout, because they can easily drink this in a shake or smoothie (made with plenty of carbs of course)…however, they are not necessary for proper recovery. Nuts, seeds, nut butters, dairy, eggs, lean meat, poultry, and fish are all great sources of protein post workout…and you get to eat REAL food rather than a powder! Protein recommendations also vary per client, but these are general recommendations post-workout.
- 10-15 grams within 30 minutes
- Examples: nuts, seeds, peanut butter, milk, eggs, lean meat, poultry, fish
Notice both recommendations for carbs and protein listed the amounts to be consumed within 30 minutes. There exists what is called a "recovery window", in which research has found your body is best able to optimize the ability to replenish energy stores within the first 30 minutes of finishing your workout. My best advice is to plan ahead and have a snack handy in your gym bag or locker so you aren't struggling to find something to eat after exercising.
- A few snack ideas to make ahead and store in gym bag/locker (lunch bag with ice pack for refrigerated items*): hard-boiled egg* with toast, peanut butter toast and a banana, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, turkey sandwich, apple and peanut butter, Greek yogurt* and peanut butter mixed with apple slices for dipping. Try these recovery bites for an easy post-workout snack that has the perfect 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein (per 3 bites).
My final nutrition tip is to make sure you are replenishing your body with enough fluids. As for fluid recommendations, ask me to help calculate your sweat rate. These recommendations vary person to person, but typical recommendations are 16-24 oz. for every pound lost during exercise. It's important to understand your personal needs, as they will differ for each athlete depending on height, weight, gender, climate, sport, intensity, duration, sweat rate, etc. It's important to meet with a sports dietitian to discuss recommendations specific to your training program.