Workout wisdom: A dietitian’s guide to healthy eating after workouts

Have you ever wondered what the best thing to eat or drink after a workout is? Have you ever thought ok, now that I’ve spent time at the gym I can go eat some junk food? Maybe you want to choose the right foods for yourself after your workout but just aren’t sure what to eat. Well, today I am going to give you the inside scoop on the three most important things your body needs after a workout.

The foods we eat and drink play an important role in giving our body the energy we need before a workout as well as the nutrition needed for recovery afterwards. Whether you train rigorously as an athlete, or do the occasional workout, this article will give you some helpful tips on what to choose for your post workout nutrition.

The first thing you want to make sure you do is replace fluids lost during exercise…..in other words hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Water is always a great option for staying hydrated and replacing the fluids you lose during a workout through sweat.

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Replace Fluids Lost

When you are doing a light or moderate exercise session, water alone can meet you re-hydration needs. The average person does not need more than this. Sports drinks such as Gatorade that have carbohydrates and electrolytes (sodium and potassium) are only indicated  for athletes doing vigorous and sustained physical activities lasting 90 minutes or more.

If you are exercising for general health and/or to lose weight or you are exercising for an hour or less sports drinks are not an appropriate option for you. In addition they are not a good choice as a day to day beverage because they provide an unneeded amount of sugar and sodium.

Consume Carbohydrates and Quality Protein

Glycogen is the energy stored in your muscles to help fuel your workouts. When you exercise, these stores are used and eventually depleted. Carbohydrates are therefore needed after a workout to help replenish the glycogen that was used. Some examples of carbohydrates include fruit, grains such as bread, rice, cereal, pasta, and milk.  

In addition to carbohydrates, you also want to consume a quality protein source to help repair and build muscle tissue after your workouts. Examples of a quality protein include meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and soy. For adults, 10 to 35% of your daily calories should be made up of protein. After a workout, protein needs can be met by using the equation of 0.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

0.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight = your post workout protein needs

*Athletes and people at extreme ends of the weight spectrum may not fit this equation*

For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to convert it into kilograms (150 lbs divided by 2.2 = 68.2 kilograms). Then multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.3 grams of protein to get the total grams of protein you need for your post workout recovery meal (68.2 kg x 0.3 grams of protein = 20 grams of protein).

Most people are able to get their protein needs from diet alone, but protein powders can be a good alternative when you aren’t able to prepare a balanced meal or snack after your workout.

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To help get you started, here are some ideas on what to eat after a workout.

Post workout nutrition examples:

  • Plain yogurt or low fat cottage cheese with berries
  • 1 cup of chocolate milk
  • A turkey or tuna sandwich wrap made with a whole wheat tortilla, cucumber, spinach, and tomato
  • A smoothie recovery shake made with low fat milk and frozen berries
  • Black bean, tofu, and vegetable chili with a slice of cornbread
  • Stir fry chicken with mixed vegetables and brown rice
Workout Recovery
Chocolate Milk

 

 

Vegetarian Chili and Cornbread
Vegetarian Chili with Cornbread

Timing Is Key

Try to get your post recovery nutrition, whether it is a meal or snack within 2 hours of your workout. If your goal is to build muscle and increase lean muscle mass, aim to have your post workout meal as soon as possible due to current studies suggesting protein consumption for the purpose of increasing muscle mass is greatest immediately after your workout. Keep in mind that higher intake of protein after workouts, for example, greater than 40 grams of dietary protein have not yet been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis.

The next time you workout, remember the three most important things you need afterwards: fluids (water), carbohydrates, and protein. Over the next week, I challenge you to try at least one of my post workout nutrition meals or snacks. Comment below and let me know which ones work best for you.

Until next week.

Royally Yours,

The Diet Duchess