Congratulations! You made it through your fat burning, muscle toning, strength building sweat fest!
After all that effort, it would be a shame not to get all you can out of the workout and the results you want, right? Unfortunately, however, many people fail to realize that the hours after their workouts are extremely important to making the most of their efforts and giving the body what it needs to recover well.
Last Monday we chatted about what to eat before you workout. Here are some key tips to keep in mind in the magic 2 hour window after you exercise.
Drink water! While you'll likely need at least a cup or two, how much you truly need depends on how much you sweat. One way to estimate your need is to weigh yourself before you workout and then weigh yourself right after to see how much water you've lost. When you exercise, you loose moisture via sweat (the obvious) and via respiration (the less obvious) so you can actually end your workout a bit dehydrated if you aren't putting it back during the workout. Keep in mind that if you exercise for an hour or less and don't live somewhere hot like Arizona chances are low that you need to rehydrate with sports drinks.
2. Put carbs and protein in right away.
There's a reason why you're probably a bit hungry after you exercise. Your body is primed and most receptive to these key nutrients at that time. The sooner you start your refueling, the better your recovery and possibly the less muscle soreness you'll experience. Eating a fist-sized snack (or a meal depending on your timing) within 15-60 minutes after your workout can give your body what it needs when it needs it most. What should you choose? Low fat chocolate milk is a popular choice right now (probably in part due to its heavy promotion by the dairy industry) but a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread can work just as well. I like to nosh a serving of a cranberry, almond, cashew nut blend from good 'ol Trader Joe's when I leave the gym. Truly, the choice is up to your taste buds and your body. You just want to choose an easily digestible healthy carb to quickly balance your blood sugar and some protein so it doesn't have to steal it from your muscles.
3. Put back what you've used and give your body what it needs to rebuild and remodel.
Even if your goal is weight loss you still need to time your meals so that your body has the fuel and nutrients it needs to make the most of your workouts. Skipping meals or failing to fuel afterwards can mean a longer recovery time and increased muscle soreness in the hours following. In order to boost your metabolism and build shapely muscle your body needs the proper tools. That means giving it the right nutrients. Big picture, that means carbs, protein and the right fats. Where can these tools best be found in the hours after your workout? Foods like leafy greens, broccoli, brown rice, quinoa, legumes, fish and chicken. Whole foods from the ground and, as much as possible, not from a box.
More helpful tips:
- Do be careful and watch your your portion sizes. Just because you worked out doesn't mean you should pig-out.
- Don't let yourself get so hungry that you make poor choices such as sugary, high calorie, high-fat, nutrient-poor treats (see next tip).
- Put a snack in your bag! Plan your post-workout snack and subsequent meal so that you don't pass that optimal workout window (2 hours or less) to maximize the food's affects and to control hunger. If you workout late break up your evening meal so that you have some of the fuel before you workout (remember, 1 to 1.5 hours prior) and then finish the rest of the fueling after.
CLICK HERE to check out the previously posted "20 Healthy Snack Ideas".
And finally, here's a recent study on eating after exercise: "What You Eat After exercise Matters".