THINNER YOU: What to eat after your workout

BY DEAN ANDERSON for SPARKPEOPLE

Everyone knows that athletes must plan and time their meals and snacks very carefully to reach their performance goals. But what about the rest of us? You try to squeeze in 30-60 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Do you have to be careful about what you eat before and after your workouts, too?

gospelcize.0715_4If you’re eating a healthy diet and getting enough calories to support your activity level, you can probably rely on your own appetite, energy levels, and experience to tell you whether you need to eat anything before or after exercise and what it should be. The basic rule here is: Find out what works best for you, and do that.

There are some advantages to knowing how your body works and what it needs to perform at its best. The bottom line for healthy weight loss and fitness sounds simple: You have to eat fewer calories than you use up  —  but not fewer than your body needs to function at its best.

The size, timing, and content of your pre- and post-exercise meals and snacks can play an important role in your energy levels during your workout, how well your body recovers and rebuilds after your workout, and whether the calories you eat will be used as fuel or stored as fat. Here’s what you need to eat and drink to get the results you want!

Your Post-Exercise Fluid Needs

Most moderate exercisers will lose about one quart (4 cups) of fluid per hour of exercise, so try to drink about 16-20 ounces of water shortly after your workout to aid the recovery process. If you sweat a lot or the weather is hot and/or humid, consider weighing yourself before and after exercise, and drinking an ounce of water for every ounce of weight you’ve lost. Because heavy sweating also causes loss of minerals and electrolytes, consider using a sports drink with electrolytes if you need to replace more than 2-3 cups of fluid.

Your Post-Exercise Meal or Snack

As long as you’re staying within your overall range for the day, you don’t need to be obsessive about matching the following calorie and nutrient ratios perfectly. Just be careful not to fall into the very common trap of thinking that it’s OK to eat anything and everything in sight because you just worked out. Many people are very hungry after a workout, making it easy to eat more than you really need, or choose foods that won’t really help your body. Eating too much of the wrong thing can do the opposite of what you want — cause your body to store that food as fat instead of using your post-workout food to refuel and repair your muscles.

So what does the ideal meal or snack look like?

gwedinecade6Calories. Ideally, try to eat enough calories to equal 50 percent of the calories you burned during your workout. So if you burn about 600 calories during your workout, try to eat 300 calories afterward.

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 the muscle fuel (glycogen) you used up 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 more — around 50-60 grams for each hour they exercised.

If you have some favorite high-carb foods that are lacking in 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’re a whole foods foodie, 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 workout.

But if your appetite or schedule doesn’t allow you to eat a meal right after your exercise session, 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. If you can, 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 snacks after a workout.

Some sample food combinations for your post-exercise meal:

202243_Washington_Chocolate• Bread, a bagel, or an English muffin with cheese or peanut butter
• Dried fruit and nuts
• Cottage cheese with fruit
• Fruit juice with cheese
• Yogurt with fruit
• Veggie omelet with toast or roll
• Chocolate milk
• Cereal with milk
• Eggs and toast
• Turkey, ham, chicken, or roast beef sandwich
• Vegetable stir-fry with chicken, shrimp, edamame or tofu
• Crackers with low fat cheese
• Rice or popcorn cakes with nut butter
• Smoothie (with milk, yogurt, or added protein powder)
• A protein or energy bar
• A protein or energy shake
• Pancakes and eggs
• Any regular meal that contains lean protein, starch, and vegetables

As a moderate exerciser, you have a lot of flexibility when it comes to timing your meals and choosing your foods. The most important thing is getting to know your body and how it responds to exercise, so that you can give it what it needs to perform at its best. Eating the right things at the right times after you work out is essential to keeping your energy up, your workout performance high, and your body in fat-burning mode.

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    30 comments Add your comment

    Brian Asselstine

    September 21st, 2009
    11:09 am

    Double Quarter Pounder with cheese is always good after a workout. And cake. Lot’s of cake.

    Mikki

    September 21st, 2009
    12:09 pm

    Enter your comments here
    I had heard that chocolate milk was a great post workout snack but was wondering if sugar free chocolate syrup or powder was as effective as regular chocolate in replenishing energy. Any one have any info on this?

    Derrick

    September 21st, 2009
    12:24 pm

    This article is absolutely incorrect and misleading. Carbohydrates are about the WORST thing you can have post-workout. It’s no wonder America is more obese than ever. Even when they DO get off their butts and get to the gym, they sabotage what they just did by listening to bunk like this.

    LOL @ Brian.

    Ron B

    September 21st, 2009
    1:27 pm

    Milk was a bad idea

    Peanut Butter Lover

    September 21st, 2009
    2:05 pm

    I guess I am just old myself, almost 51, I love peanut butter sandwiches, no jelly or jam. The peanut butter is already sweet. LOL

    Soforeal

    September 21st, 2009
    8:05 pm

    Is subway really as healthy as everyone says they are after a workout? Even with the low fat subs there is still heavy CARBS in the bread…

    BIOMASS

    September 21st, 2009
    8:07 pm

    Chocolate milk? First of all milk, is not something a weened mammal should drink. Especially the processed crap that is available in Atlanta, Georgia. Add a bunch of sugared chocolate to it? This is typical of the infantile diets I see people eating around here.

    After a anaerobic wo, within 30 mins, 45 tops, eat some tuna, or a quality protein mix. Depending on if you want to gain weight, add some carbs.

    Stay away from milk, beef, and dairy.

    Lefty

    September 21st, 2009
    8:24 pm

    From Cooking Light: Fluid: Replace what’s lost through sweat. Use foods that are full of fluids (fruits, salads, soups) or fluid alone. Ideally you should drink before and during exercise, too.
    Carbs: The American College of Sports Medicine recommends refueling muscles with 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate in the first 30 minutes after an hourlong workout. “If you wait more than 30 minutes, it will take the body longer (about 24 to 36 hours) to refuel muscles,” says sports nutritionist Jackie Berning.
    Protein: Contrary to popular belief, the amount of exercise you perform during a normal lunch break doesn’t increase protein requirements. But protein is satisfying, says sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, who recommends that exercisers include a little protein at each meal.

    Lefty

    September 21st, 2009
    8:27 pm

    Carbs will be used by your body to restore muscle glycogen (some call it muscle fuel for a reason). If your post workout meal doesn’t contain any carbs, your body may actually instead break down muscle tissue to meet its needs.

    Lefty

    September 21st, 2009
    8:28 pm

    You want full sugar chocolate milk to replace the carbs. Sugar-free doesn’t provide that.

    Mike

    September 21st, 2009
    8:36 pm

    All Protein before, Protein and Carbs after. Never any Saturated Fat, ever. For weight training. Milk and Beef are staples for building muscle. Carbs are so important afterwards, whoever said they’re not is a moron.

    BIOMASS

    September 21st, 2009
    9:04 pm

    Mostly carbs, like potatoes, before, then absolutely a clean protein like tuna or salmon after. Add carbs, if you want to gain weight.

    BIOMASS

    September 21st, 2009
    9:06 pm

    Milk and beef are poison. Avoid eating poison. :roll:

    Paige

    September 21st, 2009
    10:20 pm

    I workout first thing in the morning and always drink plenty of water post-workout, have never thought about drinking milk. I also eat a scrambled egg/cheese/pepper whole-wheat burrito (also add hot sauce for extra kick!) for breakfast. This always seems to do the trick for me. If I find I’m still hungry within an hour or so, I’ll eat a piece of PB toast.

    Jeff

    September 21st, 2009
    10:44 pm

    Good grief, BIOMASS, what do you suggest I eat? Some brussels sprouts, some 15-grain bran muffins and some diet water with carrot chips?

    There are multiple benefits to both dairy AND beef… in excess, and to the exclusion of other foods, yes, they can be bad… but both milk and lean protein like beef are important to your body.

    If you do everything in MODERATION — eating, exercise, etc., then you will be fine. I have lost 10 to 15 pounds over the last few years simply by eating a few more fruits and vegetables, walking my dog every day for about 3/4 of a mile, and playing some occasional tennis or basketball. I’m not but a few pounds away from my high school weight, when i was super fit. And guess what? I can still enjoy an occasional pizza or cheeseburger without stressing out!

    So, don’t be so critical on an article that provides some good advice. No one source of info (even YOU Biomass!) can be relied upon as perfect and flawless. Each person should research and find a plan that works best for them.

    Debi

    September 21st, 2009
    10:57 pm

    Wow! Lot’s of opinions not based on research. First of all, you’re body does indeed need both carbohydrates and protein after a workout and yes you should have more carbohydrates than protein. Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of fuel and are not the reason that obesity has increased in the last decade. Sedentary lifestyles, over processed foods and supersized meals are among the culprits for the increase in obesity.

    Also, milk itself has sugar – lactose – so if you want to use sugar free chocolate syrup because you’re cutting back on sugar or you’re a diabetic and need to watch your sugar intake then it’s a perfectly acceptable choice.

    Diet combined with exercise is the key to weight loss and maintenance and as Jeff said…all things in moderation.

    BIOMASS

    September 21st, 2009
    11:35 pm

    Jeff, what’s wrong with brussels? Just had a bowl. I’ll pass on the vitamin water, though. I’m saying take a look at what is in your food. Beef and dairy are full of hormones and are directly connected to diseases like cancer. If you are a slave to taste, then that’s your problem.

    You can live to eat, or eat to live.

    a-belle

    September 22nd, 2009
    1:05 am

    Enter your comments here

    BIOMASS is correct. There is a lot of bad stuff in food such as hormones and just the way food is processed in general that makes it bad, although milk was never meant for human consumption which is why so many cannot process.

    There is a new documentary out called Food Inc. I have not seen it but heard it is an eye opener re: the food industry and why what we eat is sabotaging our efforts to remain healthy.

    Sorry to get off topic but I believe anyone interested enuf to respond to this article would want to be enlightened about America’s food industry.

    Bob

    September 22nd, 2009
    12:42 pm

    a-belle, your quote “milk was never meant for human consumption which is why so many cannot process”. So I don’t get that. Why do human mothers lactate then?

    Keep it whole

    September 22nd, 2009
    2:13 pm

    there’s a lot of hormones and pesticides in most of the foods sold at most of the grocery stores, so it’s not just beef and milk that is polluted, but also those brussel sprouts – if their not organic!

    Stick with whole foods, the less processed the better. Shop the outside of the grocery store and keep to the foods in season and local, they are more nutritious because they are usually picked at the peak of ripeness and are on the shelves and your table sooner after picking, since the fruits and vegetables tend to degrade once picked from the plant.

    humble writer

    September 22nd, 2009
    2:49 pm

    Bob, a-belle was likely referring to cow’s milk which was and always will be meant for cows not humans. Yes, mothers lactate to be able to give their babies human-produced milk. And if you look closer at the dangers of human consumption of cow’s milk, you’ll find that milk produced naturally from any species includes antibodies designed to internally kill off anything that is not of that species in order to promote healthy and proper growth. And we are (haven’t totally confirmed this, but I believe it’s true) the only species that continues to drink milk after we have been “weaned” from it, and it is not even our own. Hence, some of the problems and illnesses we experience, in especially our young children, can be directly attributed to the use of cow’s milk and or milk related products i.e dairy. Many say that milk/dairy is essential for things like Calcium and Vitamin D,etc. But while there may be some “so-called” benefits to milk/dairy, they are severly outwieghed by the adverse effects and consequences. The same may be said of the consumption of meat and/or meat products. Milk, along with animal flesh, has never been the best for humans, and in recent years has largely been responsible for many types of cancers, and other diseases because the animals themselves are diseased. So many, even as I write this are dying needlessly as a result of years of an incorrect diet. Even very young people are falling victim. All of the nutrients essential to man, and their life-giving benefits, can be found in fruits, nuts, vegetables and grains and/or some combination of them. This is not at all to bash those who do use animal products. It is simply to educate, and hopefully promote healthier lifestyles, esp. here in America where we could use them. I hope I was able to help! God Bless!

    healthydiva

    September 22nd, 2009
    4:16 pm

    Enter your comments here

    BIOMASS, Thank you for sharing the truth. You are oh so right. Most people just don’t get it. They either don’t want to accept the truth about beef and dairy or they are sadly misinformed. We can live without beef and dairy. What happens to babies once you introduce table food? They start getting colds, stomach aches, etc. Beef is bad for your colon and lymphatic system and dairy is mucus-forming. Beef and dairy harden in the body and attract parasites if transit time is poor. Explains the rise in so many diseases. Most people don’t want to agree with that because they don’t want to give it up the bad stuff. They are addicted to it like some people are addicted to aspartame-laced diet soft drinks and light beer.

    E

    September 22nd, 2009
    4:31 pm

    @Biomass

    I gave up red meat about 10 years ago. But I still consume skim milk in my cereal. I’ve never been sick and I love yougurt/ice cream/milshakes. Why is milk so harmful…isn’t true that we weren’t meant to consume milk or is it simply some people aren’t? Is soy or almond milk a better choice?

    healthydiva

    September 22nd, 2009
    4:43 pm

    Enter your comments here

    E, your health will be even better in the LONG RUN if you give up the milk altogether. You might not be sick now, but problems can show up later, semmingly out of the blue. Try vanilla coconut milk by So Delicious, or something similar, for your cereal and shakes. It took a while for me to give up the milk and the wrong kinds of yogurts because they are in the comfort foods category. But they give you a false sense of security. You’ll feel so good after you give it up, you won’t miss it. I’m not trying to be difficult, just trying to help. I’ve seen what ill health looks like and it’s a horrible thing.

    E

    September 22nd, 2009
    4:55 pm

    @ healtydiva

    Yeah, I’ve been eyeing soy milk for awhile now. I’m very picky, so I’m reluctant to try new foods. But your point about health issues occuring in the long run is well taken. I gave up red meat/pork years ago and don’t miss either, so I suppose the same can be done with milk products.

    LactoseIntolerant

    September 24th, 2009
    1:21 am

    I consider being severely lactose-intolerant one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. I’ve never missed dairy. Soy and rice milk are wonderful. I use soy for cooking (very creamy consistency – great for “cream” sauces) and I drink rice milk. I don’t usually catch colds or the flu at all, have no stomach problems, have always had low blood pressure, and have no signs of cancer or heart disease (despite a horrible family history of both). Not touching the beef thing though – I do love my porterhouse and burgers LOL

    Health Freak

    September 24th, 2009
    9:38 am

    I agree. Cake is the best complete protein to fuel you through that workout. I like to put a cake on my treadmill and grab a handful every mile.

    Alyssa

    February 7th, 2010
    8:30 pm

    Everyone needs to realize that reading articles online about “getting thinner” never works.You need to find your own balance with food,everyone is different.All you need to do is watch what your eating,portion your meals,and you do NOT need a “yummy snack” everyday.It should not be hard for you to balance out your own meals.Eat whats healthy and don’t eat constantly.Exercising,is boring and makes you think to much about your body.Join a sport,clean,take a walk with friends,just be up and about all day.This helps you stay in shape and keep your mental health up.Working out can actually make you go crazy,but its still important to do some cardio and weight training.Some foods are bad for you,but if your used to eating them daily,then cut back slowly because if you just shut yourself out from them like crazy,you’ll fall right back into them.

    Anthony

    February 8th, 2010
    6:39 pm

    Be weary of anyone who refers to commonly consumed foods as “poison”. Really, milk wasn’t meant for human consumption? Cus I think the humans beg to differ.

    P.S. Who here loves a good milksteak?? Haaaa. Cmon, it was a little funny!

    Leigh

    June 6th, 2010
    5:28 am

    Soy milk is no better than cow’s milk. Soy protein is highly processed under chemical extraction. It mimics estrogen and has been linked to breast cancer, menstrual cycle disturbances, abnormal sexual development in children , breast develoment in boys, and the list goes on and on. Soy protein is in most vegetarian products and many other products you wouldn’t expect. I guess it comes down to deciding which is the lesser of two evils.