Darla Leal is a Master Fitness Trainer, freelance writer, and the creator of Stay Healthy Fitness, where she embraces a “fit-over-55” lifestyle.
Hard workouts require proper nutrition to fuel and refuel working muscles. In fact, what you eat post-workout is just as important as the food consumed prior to physical exercise. Common questions surrounding post-workout meals are the best foods to eat and how long should you wait to eat.
Before answering those questions, it’s important to understand the importance of food intake to support your workouts and how your body responds to the demands of physical exercise. During an exercise session, energy stores (glycogen) are depleted, muscle tissue is damaged, and fluids along with electrolytes are lost through sweat.
Post-workout nutrients are essential for replenishing the muscle glycogen depleted from physical demands. Also, consuming an exercise recovery meal helps stimulate protein synthesis to repair and build new muscle tissue and restore fluid and electrolyte balance.
Factoring in Nutrients and Timing
According to research, consuming the right amount of carbohydrates and protein is especially important after a workout. When to eat depends on the type of workout performed according to a few studies.
Intense weight resistance workouts with a goal of increasing muscle size, it’s suggested to consume 20–30 grams of lean protein and 30–40 grams of healthy carbohydrates as close to your post-workout as possible.
For lighter aerobic workouts with a goal to stay in shape, eat a well-balanced meal with the same ratio up to one hour after exercising. There are some theories that an anabolic window diminishes as time progresses without adequate carbohydrate and protein intake.
Although it’s recommended to eat within an hour after weight training or as close to your post-workout as possible, some research indicates the anabolic window can last at least 24 hours. It appears the most important factor in your post-workout meal is not necessarily nutrient timing but just making sure you are eating the right foods for your individualized fitness goals.
Eating Well and Staying Hydrated
Essential nutrients are required after a hard workout with carbohydrates and protein being the main focus. Drinking plenty of water and sometimes a sports recovery drink during longer sessions of exercise is also necessary for fluid replenishment.
Average sweat loss during exercise is about 0.5–2 liters per hour. Typically, any weight loss of greater than 2% during exercises will significantly decreased performance and weight exceeding 4% may lead to heat illnesses.
Sports nutrition research recommends drinking 2–3 cups (16–24 ounces) of water for each pound of body weight lost during a workout. Active adults typically don’t weigh in after a workout, so a good rule to follow is drinking plenty of fluids during and after physical activity to avoid dehydration.
Don’t Skip Post-Workout Meals
Food intake is a key component to athletic success pre and post-workout. Athletes use a range of dietary strategies to improve exercise performance including eating carbohydrates and especially protein following workout programs. They also focus on maintaining proper hydration during and after physical training.
According to a study on the role of nutrients for post-exercise recovery, without adequate carbohydrates, proteins, and fluids, performance can be impaired.