Exercise is extremely important for your physical as well as mental health, but not many know that what you eat after exercising is also very important. Also, many of us plan the pre-workout meal, but ignore the post workout meal, which is also equally important. In this article, we will discuss about post-exercise nutrition that is, what foods to eat after a workout.
Why Eating the Right Foods After a Workout is Important
In order to understand the effect of the right foods after a workout, one needs to first understand the impact of physical activity on the body. When exercising, the glycogen in our body is used by the muscles, which is the preferred fuel source of the body; particularly when doing high- intensity exercise. When this happens, there is partial depletion of glycogen by the muscles and also the proteins in the muscles get broken down and damaged.(1, 2, 3)
After finishing the exercise, the body tries to regain the glycogen stores and also tries to re-grow and repair the broken down muscle proteins. So, it is important to consume the right nutrients after working out to help the body achieve this faster. Eating protein and carbohydrate rich foods after a workout is especially important as this helps in:
- Increasing the protein synthesis in the muscle.
- Decreasing the breakdown of the muscle protein.
- Enhancing recovery.
- Restoring the glycogen stores.
Post-Exercise Nutrition with Foods Containing Protein, Fat and Carbs
All the above macronutrients that is protein, fat and carbohydrates are essential in the recovery process of the body after exercising. It is important to have adequate amounts of all the three after a workout. Read on to know why.
Protein Helps in Repairing and Building Muscles
After exercise, there is breakdown of the muscle protein and the rate at which this occurs depends on the type of exercise and intensity of exercise. However, even well-trained athletes also have breakdown of the muscle-protein.(1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
So, it becomes necessary to consume sufficient amount of protein after a workout to provide your body with amino acids needed for repairing and rebuilding these proteins. Protein also provides the building blocks needed for building the new muscle tissue.(6, 7, 8, 9)
It’s recommended after exercising to consume about 0.3 to 0.5 g/kg of protein per pound of body weight. (0.14 to 0.23 g)(2)
According to studies, eating 20 to 40 g of protein helps in increasing the ability of the body to recover after exercising.(7, 10)
According to another study, eating protein before exercising and after exercising has a similar effect on the muscle hypertrophy, strength and changes in body composition.(11)
All Fat is Not Bad
It is a common notion that consumption of fat after exercising slows the digestion and hinders the absorption of nutrients. While it is true that fat can slow down the absorption of post-workout meal; however, it is will not tamper its benefits. A study has shown that drinking whole milk after a workout was more effective in promoting growth of muscle than skim milk.(12)
One more study has revealed that when eating a high fat meal after exercising did not affect the muscle glycogen synthesis.(13)
It is always better to consume low fat meals; however, if there is a little bit of fat in your post-workout meal then it will not make any difference to the recovery process.
Carbohydrates Are Not Your Enemy!
During a workout, the glycogen stores in the body are used as fuel and eating carbs after exercising helps in replenishing them. The type of exercise you are doing determines the speed at which the glycogen stores get depleted. Resistance training uses less glycogen than endurance sports. So, if you are participating in endurance sports, such as swimming or running, then you need to eat more carbohydrates when compared to someone who is weightlifting.
After exercising it is recommended to eat about 1.1 to 1.5 g/kg of carbohydrates (0.5 to 0.7 g per pound) of body weight within half-an-hour after training for proper glycogen re-synthesis.(2)
Additionally, insulin secretion, which helps in glycogen synthesis, is also better stimulated when protein and carbohydrates are eaten at the same time.(14, 15, 16)
Therefore, it is better to eat both carbohydrates and protein after exercising to maximize the synthesis of glycogen and protein.(14, 17)
Consumption of carbohydrate for the purpose of rebuilding the glycogen stores is extremely vital for people who frequently exercise, for example two times in a day. However, if there is a rest period of 1 or 2 days between workout sessions, then this is less important.
The Timing of When You Eat After Exercising Is Important
The body’s ability for rebuilding protein and glycogen increases after exercising.(18) This is why it is recommended to eat foods that are a combination of protein and carbs after exercising. Previously it was recommended to eat the post-workout meal within the time of 45 minutes, as delaying consumption of carbohydrates by even a couple of hours after exercising can cause about 50% lesser rates of glycogen synthesis.(18, 19)
However, recent research has shown that the post-exercise window for maximizing the muscular response to protein consumption is more than what was thought initially and can be up to several hours in fact.(11)
Moreover, if a person has eaten a meal rich in protein and whole carbs about an hour before workout, then the chances are the benefits from this meal still continue after exercising.(20, 21, 22)
One should also understand that recovery is also not about what you eat after exercising. With consistent exercise, this is an ongoing process and it is better to eat well-balanced meals in small quantities of foods containing protein and carbohydrates every 3 to 4 hours.
What Foods to Eat After a Workout?
The aim of having post-workout meal is to provide your body with the correct and adequate amounts of nutrients for ample recovery and also to enhance the benefits of the workout. Consumption of foods, which are easily digested helps in faster absorption of nutrients.
Some of the easily digested foods that are ideal to include in your post exercise nutrition are:
- Proteins, such as protein powder (plant or animal based); Greek yogurt; eggs, salmon, cottage cheese, chicken, tuna and protein bar.
- Healthy Fats, such as nuts, avocado, nut butters, trail mix and seeds.
- Carbs, such as chocolate milk, sweet potatoes, fruits, quinoa and other grains; rice and rice cakes; potatoes; oatmeal; whole grain bread; pasta and Edamame.
Ideal Post-Workout Snacks and Meals
All the above mentioned foods can give you an ideal post workout meal, which gives all the nutrients required after a workout session. Some of the easy and healthy meals to make after an exercise session are:
- Avocado spread on whole grain toast with egg omelet.
- Grilled chicken with rice and roasted vegetables.
- Sweet potato with salmon.
- Crackers and tuna.
- Almonds, oatmeal, banana and whey protein.
- Tuna salad on whole grain bread.
- Fruits and cottage cheese.
- Hummus and pita.
- Almond butter on whole grain toast.
- Peanut butter with rice crackers.
- Cereal with soy or dairy milk
- Banana and protein shake.
- Granola, berries with Greek yogurt.
- Whole grain crackers with fruit and string cheese.
- Quinoa bowl with pecans, berries and sweet potatoes.
Hydration is Important Pre- and Post Workout
Hydration, by way of drinking lot of water, is important before and after exercising. Proper hydration helps in maintaining the inner balance of the body and is conducive to maximize results from your workout.
When a person exercises, there is loss of electrolytes and water through sweat. It is important to replenish these after exercising to aid with the recovery process and also the performance.(23)
Replenishment of the lost fluids becomes even more important if the next workout session is within 12 hours. Water or an electrolyte drink is recommended depending on the intensity and duration of the workout.
It is absolutely essential to eat foods that are rich in protein and carbs after exercising. A good post workout nutrition helps in promoting the protein synthesis in the muscles and also betters the recovery and improves performance in the next workout. It is also important to refuel your body with snack or meal every 2 to 3 hours and avoid going without food for hours at a stretch.
Finally, drinking lot of fluids is important for replenishing lost electrolytes and water to help in rebuilding and recovering of the muscle fibers and to enhance the benefits of the workout.