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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Post Exercise Fuel

My last post was on what to eat before a workout, and now I will talk about what to eat after a workout.

When you are exercising, you are tearing muscles and depleting your glycogen stores. So it makes sense that we need fuel to address both of these things. I recommend high glycemic index (GI) carbs following exercise so that you can get glucose into your muscles to replenish glycogen as soon as possible. A small amount of protein is also beneficial to start repairing and rebuilding the muscles you used and abused during the workout.

Timing is important after exercise to recover most quickly and efficiently. It is best to get something to eat within 30 minutes of finishing your exercise. If you are going to be eating your next meal within an hour or two, then a small snack of 150-200 calories is fine followed by that next meal. If your meal will be sooner, then just use the meal to refuel. If it was an especially hard or long workout, have some sports drink as you are finishing your exercise to start replenishing glycogen until you can get some food.

Of course, make sure you are hydrating as well as eating! Some people like to do double purpose and have a sports drink that contains protein as a recovery drink. These products are fine, but I personally don’t like the taste enough to drink them. I would rather either eat a nutrition bar (with carbs and a little protein) or have my next meal of “real food.”

Here are some ideas for post exercise snacks or meals:

  • Bagel (or English muffin, toast) with cheese or peanut butter
  • Fruit juice with a cheese stick
  • Dried fruit and nuts (make your own trail mix)
  • Cottage cheese with fruit
  • Yogurt with fruit
  • Turkey, ham, or roast beef sandwich
  • Chocolate milk
  • Cereal with milk
  • Crackers with low fat cheese
  • Rice or popcorn cakes with Nutella (or any nut butter)
  • Nutrition bar (at least 5 grams protein and 15 grams carb as a snack size, more if it is meal size)
  • Nutrition shake (like Slimfast or EAS AdvantEDGE)
  • Eggs and toast
  • Veggie omelet with toast
  • Pancakes and eggs (can you tell I workout in the morning and eat breakfast foods post workout a lot?)
  • Smoothie (make sure it is made with milk or yogurt or has a scoop of protein powder)
  • Your next meal: Any lean protein (lean beef, chicken, pork, fish, veggie burger, egg) with any starch (rice, potatoes, pasta, bread) and some vegetables
A few things to remember:
  1. If you are the type of person that is not hungry after working out, at least eat something small within 30 minutes. If you don't want anything solid, have a sports drink, milk, or nutrition shake.
  2. You need 16 ounces of water for every pound you lost during exercise. I recommend drinking at least 16-20 ounces of water after every exercise session. Drink more if you are a heavy sweater or it was a long workout.
  3. The sooner you eat something after exercise, the quicker you will recover. It may even prevent you from getting sore after a hard workout!
  4. Carbs are just as important as protein post workout. Many people think you only need protein to rebuild muscle, but your body will break down that protein to replenish glycogen if you don't eat some carbs and then you won't have any protein left to repair your muscles!

Photo courtesy of istockphoto

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About the Author


MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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