After finishing up a session in the gym, your next step should be tending to your post-workout nutrition. Hands down, this is the most important time to eat during any workout day. Even more important than breakfast.
Immediately after your workout session, your body is crying for fuel. It’s broken down and hurting. It needs repair. Food is what will help kick-start this process—if you eat right. To help you get on track, here are four things that you need to know about post-workout nutrition to put you on the right path.
1. You need to eat immediately Always remember: the sooner you can get that nutrition in, the better. Don’t wait until you get home, shower, and answer a few emails. There’s a slim window of opportunity after the workout when your body is like a sponge ready to soak up the nutrients.
You’ll still be putting the nutrients to good use if you eat 30 to 60 minutes later, but your meal or snack won’t be as effective for helping you feel recovered as if you had eaten 5 minutes post-gym. Pack a meal, snack, or smoothie and bring it with you to the gym—and be sure to eat it right after your sweat session. (Need ideas? Fuel Up Pre- & Post-Run with These Meals & Snacks.)
2. You should be eating carbs Many people who are trying to lose weight think they need to avoid carbohydrates in favor of a protein-only meal post-workout. The truth is, for optimal results, you want both. Carbohydrates provide the high-energy glucose needed to re-saturate muscle glycogen stores, while protein provides the amino acids needed to rebuild muscle tissue. If you skip the carbs, you’ll feel less energized for the rest of the day, and you may not have enough glucose stored to push through your next workout.
3. You can indulge a little If you naturally crave sugary foods, the post-workout period is the best time to eat them without worry. Eating something sugary after a workout creates an insulin spike that can help drive protein into your cells faster. So if you want sweet cereal, a fruit smoothie, or a bagel with jelly you can have it—just be sure to pair it with some protein, too.
4. You need to hydrate, too Too many people put all the focus on what they are eating and forget to drink water after a sweat session. Low-fat chocolate milk and sports drinks can help you rehydrate while offering some carbs, but water is best when you’re having a solid snack or meal.
Taking your post-workout nutrition seriously is the key to recovery. It will make a big difference by helping you increase how fast your muscles repair themselves after you hit the gym. Be sure to plan ahead so you’re never stuck without food—the last thing you want to do is grab something full of empty calories, like a candy bar, which won’t supply the nutrients your muscles need.
What’s your favorite post-workout meal? Share in the comments below.