Nutrition Articles

What to Eat After You Work Out

Refuel and Recover with a Post-Workout Meal or Snack

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So what does the ideal meal or snack look like?
  • Calories. Ideally, try to eat enough calories to equal 50 percent of what you burned during your workout. So if you burn about 600 calories, try to eat 300 calories after exercise.

    Don’t worry about undoing the calorie-burning benefits of your workout—that’s not how weight loss works. As long as you're eating within your recommended calorie range (whether for weight loss or maintenance), you'll be on your way to reaching your goals.
     
  • Carbohydrates. Roughly 60 percent of the calories you eat at this time should come from carbohydrates. Contrary to popular belief, your body needs more carbohydrates than protein after a workout, to replace depleted muscle fuel (glycogen) and to prepare for your next exercise session. Moderate exercisers need about 30-40 grams of carbohydrates after an hour of exercise, but high-intensity exercisers need around 50-60 grams for each hour they exercised.

    If you have some favorite high-carb foods that are lacking the whole grains and fiber that are often recommended as part of a healthy diet, this is a good time to have them. Your body can digest refined carbohydrates faster during your "refueling window," but if you prefer whole foods, don’t force yourself to eat processed foods.
     
  • Protein. While carbs are essential, it’s also important to include some high-quality protein in your post-workout meal or snack. This protein will stop your body from breaking down muscle tissue for energy and initiate the process of rebuilding and repairing your muscles. About 25 percent of the calories you eat after a workout should come from protein—that's about 10-15 grams for most people.
     
  • Fat. Fat doesn't play a big role in post-workout recovery, and eating too much fat after a workout won't help your weight control or fitness endeavors. Only 15 percent (or less) of your post-workout calories should come from fat—that's less than 10 grams.
The ideal time to eat after a workout is within 30 minutes to two hours, when your body is ready and waiting to top off its fuel tanks to prepare for your next session. 

But if your appetite or schedule doesn’t allow you to eat a meal right after exercise, don’t panic. Your body can still replace your muscle fuel over the next 24 hours, as long as you’re eating enough food to support your activity level. Try to have a smaller snack that contains carbs and protein as soon after exercise as possible. Liquids like smoothies, shakes or chocolate milk, and/or energy bars, can be especially effective post-workout snacks.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

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