Having a post-workout recovery routine is important for keeping muscles healthy and preventing injury. That may mean stretching to improve mobility and flexibility or foam rolling. But regardless of how you cool down, taking post-sweat nutrition into account as part of your overall recovery strategy is key.
Here, a look at the science behind the refuel window and how to determine what you should eat post-workout:
WHY THE REFUEL WINDOW MATTERS
Often referred to as the “refuel” or “anabolic window,” many experts designate 30- to 60-minutes post exercise as the time period in which you should look to replace important nutrients lost during exercise. The goal is to quickly replenish muscle glycogen fuel stores, (which requires carbohydrates) and help muscles repair, (which requires protein). That’s why you might hear a recommended refueling ratio of 4:1 carbs to protein during this post-workout timeframe.
WHY THE REFUEL WINDOW ISN’T CREATED EQUAL
Research indicates the 30–60 minute window is most important for athletes who train at a vigorous level, including endurance athletes. However, those who exercise at a low-to-moderate level of intensity or for less than 60 minutes may not need to refuel within an hour.
WHAT SHOULD YOU EAT POST-WORKOUT?
If you’ve had an intense workout, make sure to get some protein and carbs like a simple green protein smoothie, an apple and peanut butter or chocolate milk. If you need some inspiration, you can take a cue from fitness pros. After lower-intensity workouts have a light snack if you feel hungry. However, rather than worrying about the refuel window, “make it your primary goal to eat a well-balanced diet in general, so the body can use the proper nutrients for recovery as needed,” says running coach Emilio Flores, founder of the online coaching program Even. And don’t forget to sip water so you stay hydrated.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Make sure you’re getting enough protein and carbs in your daily diet, not just after you get your heart rate up. The International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests active people aim for an overall daily protein intake between 1.4–2 grams per kilogram of body weight (for reference, a 150-pound active person will need roughly 95–136 grams of protein per day). For carbs, aim to get between 8–12 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day. If you’re unsure whether you’re getting the right amount, a good place to start is by keeping a food journal with an app like MyFitnessPal.