Your workout session has ended. You just gave it your all.
Now, it’s time to refill your empty tank.
But, if you aren’t giving much thought into the type of fuel you’re using in this crucial step, you could be sabotaging your hard work in the gym (or at home, outdoors, or wherever else you workout).
Fueling your body with the right nutrients is just as important as your exercise efforts when it comes to both gaining muscle and losing weight.
In other words, your body is a Cadillac, therefore you require premium fuel for premium results, and that’s not only referring to the quality of fuel, but the type as well!
Should you focus on carbs? What about protein?
How soon should you eat after working out?
How much should you eat after working out?
Why exactly is post workout nutrition so important?
The Whys, Whens, And Whats Of Post Workout Snacking
When you finish an intense workout, your body signals the need for refueling soon after.
This is primarily due to something called glycogen.
Glycogen is made from glucose, and glucose is made primarily from the carbohydrates that we consume.
For the most part, glycogen is stored in your liver and your muscles. And, your body uses this stored glycogen for energy during your workouts.
So then, when you finish that intense session of exercise, your body starts the process of rebuilding its glycogen levels as well as repairing and regrowing muscle.
The snacks that you choose post workout should help your body in this process. And, obviously choosing the wrong ones can hinder it.
Fueling your body properly after a workout:
- Regulates blood sugar levels
- Counteracts any fatigue you may feel after exercise
- Replenishes glycogen stores
- Boosts muscle growth
- Decreases the breakdown of muscle proteins
- Enhances overall recovery
- Replenishes electrolyte levels
Okay, you get it, refueling is essential. But, how long should you wait to eat after finishing a gym session?
Generally speaking, there is a 30-60 minute time frame post-workout when your body is geared towards reabsorbing needed carbs and proteins for replenishment.
However, some folks say not to push past even 45 minutes, lessening that window a bit.
To put that time frame in perspective, the Journal of Applied Physiology states that waiting two hours after a workout to refuel decreases your body’s ability to refuel your muscles by 50%.
So, most folks stick within the 30-60 minute window.
And, now that we’ve covered the why and the when, let’s get down to the what!
Since your goal after a workout is to fuel your body with what it needs to allow you to fully benefit from your workout and enhance your recovery, foods that are easily digested are recommended.
Why? Easily digested foods equate to faster nutrient absorption.
Aside from that, consider the following regarding proteins, carbs, and fat and how they aid in the post workout recovery process.
Protein supplies your body with amino acids, which are needed by your body to build new muscle tissue.
Studies show that 20-40 grams of protein post workout maximizes the body’s ability to recover.
Consuming carbs post workout helps to restore the glycogen that you just used in your gym session.
And, while consuming a post workout snack that is high in fat is considered a debatable practice by some due to fat potentially slowing the absorption of nutrients, many say the benefits of fat outweigh this notion.
But overall, a 3:1 carb to protein ratio is recommended for post workout snack composition.
So, here’s a list of the best post-workout snacks and a little info on why these snacks have made the list.
Okay, not a snack, but rehydration can’t be stressed enough when it comes to your post workout body replenishing routine.
Most recommendations center around consuming 16 ounces of water for every pound lost during a workout. Don’t weigh yourself pre and post workouts? Me either. So, in that case, I err on the 16 ounce side of caution and simply listen to my body’s hydration needs.
1- Chocolate Milk
Personally, I feel like dark chocolate almond milk is a better choice than regular chocolate milk, primarily due to the sugar and dairy content.
But, most athletes find that 1 cup of 1% chocolate milk provides the needed carb to protein post-workout snack ratio.
If you prefer non dairy and go with the almond milk, having a little more than a cup or even adding a tablespoon of natural peanut butter to that snack may prove beneficial.
2- Hard Boiled Eggs And Whole Grain Toast
A great carb to protein ratio, this makes a filling post workout combo. And, the eggs in this combo contain needed amino acids that aid your body in muscle metabolism.
3- Greek Yogurt With Fruit
Greek yogurt is not only full of nutrients, but it is easily digestible, making it an excellent after workout snack.
Adding fruit, especially berries, to your yogurt provides needed carbohydrates to aid in rebuilding glycogen stores.
4- Banana and Nut Butter
Bananas are a great go-to after an intense workout due to their potassium content as you lose potassium during exercise.
Nut butters contain protein, and paired with the banana offer a good macronutrient ratio post-workout.
5- Protein Shakes and Smoothies
If you tread lightly here, protein shakes and smoothies can be wonderful post workout snacks.
The trouble with shakes and smoothies is that many are labeled as healthy, but contain added sugars, soy, and dairy (important for those foregoing it).
Try to build your smoothie with whole food ingredients, and when choosing a protein powder look for unsweetened, whey isolate varieties from grass-fed cows.
Bonus: Shakes and smoothies are also a great way to add in extras for health benefits.
For instance, add a little cinnamon for extra antioxidants and its inflammation reducing qualities. And, the same goes for turmeric, a natural anti inflammatory that works wonders after you’ve just put your body through an intense workout.
6- Whole Wheat Pita With Veggies And Hummus
With the pita and the hummus, you’ll be getting a great mix of carbs and proteins to replenish and refuel your body post workout, but add some veggies and you’ll get a bit of an upgrade in regards to your health as well.
7- Cottage Cheese And Avocado Toast
Ezekiel bread makes a great healthy toast, but when you top it with some avocado and a side of cottage cheese, you’ve got a healthy and macronutrient rich snack.
And, obviously, whole grain varieties work well here too.
8- Apple And Peanut Butter
Who says you can’t have a little nostalgia after a workout.
It seems like this is/was a go-to after school snack for many kids, and I’d say moms everywhere who are serving it up just might be thinking that a long day at school requires a great carb to protein ratio snack for refueling.
The same is true here after you workout as well. Apples are a great source of fiber and are natural energy boosters.
Add a little peanut butter to that carb and bam, you’ve got a delicious after workout treat!
9- Tuna And Crackers
You could substitute a good canned chicken here, or even salmon as well.
But, having a bit of tuna (or chicken or salmon) with a clean cracker post workout provides needed amino acids from the protein and helpful carbs from the crackers (just be wise in choosing a healthy cracker).
10- Turkey, Cheese, And Apple Slices
Okay, so some folks are completely against any kind of deli meat, and some are not. So, if you find yourself in the “I’m against it” category, you can definitely opt for some real turkey breast in this case.
Personally, this combo is a tasty winner for me, and if I’m avoiding deli meat, I make extra chicken breasts or turkey breast in the crockpot or oven to have on hand in the refrigerator for post workout snacks.
Just a little bit paired with cheese and/or apples gives a good protein and carb recovery ratio.
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