As trainers, our primary job is to help people through a workout that challenges and changes their bodies. But what we do in the gym is such a small fraction of everything that goes into optimizing health. In fact, how you refuel after a workout sets up your body and mind for the rest of your day.
And whether we’re speaking with new clients who are just starting to work out or elite athletes looking to level up their game, how to refuel after a workout is always a topic of conversation. So here’s what you need to know about proper nourishment following a workout to get the most bang for your buck.
Hydration is First and Foremost
Re-hydration is critical because you lose so much water during a workout, whether through sweat or just your breath. During hot summer workout sessions, your body instinctively knows it’s losing water since you generally become a puddle of sweat.
But as we come into the season of cooler weather, you’re still losing water through sweat and breath, and it’s just as important, if not more so, to be mindful of the need to re-hydrate.
Water is always going to be the optimal form of hydration. But those who don’t love the taste (or lack thereof) of water should consider adding in fruit slices like limes, lemons, or strawberries to give it a kick. Or opt for flavored electrolyte powders that have no added sugars. Of course, Gatorade and other “thirst-quenching” drinks have their place, but you don’t necessarily need to consume all that sugar after an average day’s pump session.
Replenish Your Carbohydrate Stores
Carbohydrates, or carbs, which are converted to glucose, are what your body uses to fuel your workout. And that means after a tough session, those energy stores are depleted. So by replenishing your body with carbs, you’ll have the energy you need to get through the day.
Healthier carb options include fruits like bananas or berries, sweet potatoes, veggies, leafy greens, or oats. And carbs do best when they’re paired with a satisfying protein.
Pump Up Recovery With Protein
When you work out, you’re putting stress (good stress!) on your muscles. So following a workout, those muscles break down, and your body needs to repair the damage. Protein is the primary macronutrient that helps to repair and grow your muscles. And pairing protein with carbs helps further replenish your glycogen stores.
When it comes to what type of protein to choose, protein powders are always a popular choice among the fitness community for post-workout. That’s likely because of how easy it is to add a protein supplement to a smoothie or have it mixed with yogurt or a sports drink. But if your schedule allows for a bit more prep, consider having lean meat or eggs alongside some of the carb options listed above.
How Long Should You Wait to Refuel After a Workout?
Your body is most receptive to refueling around 30 minutes to 1 hour after you finish working out. But it really comes down to personal preference, how you feel, and your schedule.
Some people just aren’t hungry for an hour or two after leaving the gym. And while it’s not necessarily wrong to take in fuel later in the day, it may just mean you’ll have a slower recovery process. So if you feel good about it and your schedule allows, eating within the hour is best.
What to Avoid Immediately After a Workout
While hydration, carbs, and protein are essential to support your body following an exercise session, there are also a few things you should try to avoid.
- High-fat foods: Foods that are higher in fat tend to slow down digestion. Not to say having a little healthy fat is a no-go (what’s up, avocado in your smoothie!), but lean on carbs and protein to make up the bulk of your post-sweat sesh meal.
- Alcohol: While that boozy yoga class is a great way to socialize, alcohol has a negative effect on repairing your body. It can impact hormones like cortisol and testosterone that are critical in the repair process. So if you can, choose to skip booze for several hours following a workout.
- Processed or high salt foods: Foods that are processed or high in salt can cause water retention and are a source of inflammation. Following a workout, your body is already going to be inflamed as it works to repair your fatigued muscles, so adding further inflammation may lead to joint pain and other issues.
- Fasting: Even though you may not feel like taking down a huge meal following a strenuous workout, it’s smart to push yourself to have a little something. Not eating anything at all could cause fatigue. Since your body has been hard at work, you want to replenish it and be kind as it works to repair the damage. Plus, having a balanced meal to refuel could help ward off soreness. Bonus!
The Last Word About How to Refuel After a Workout
We’re beating the same old drum on this one, but preparation is key. Planning and preparing are critical to success during and after your workouts. So while you plan your workouts for the week, take a second to plan how you’ll refuel. It might be pre-made shakes that are ready to blend or oatmeal and egg whites if you have more time.
What you choose to eat to replenish your body may look different during the various seasons of your life. But know that as long as you’re focusing on hydration, healthy carbs, and protein that you’re on the right track.
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