Cooling down: What to eat after a workout

After a hectic and busy day, you go out for your regular workout session, and there you are, dripping with sweat, exhausted, and craving food. Your body feels the need for something to make up for the nutrients consumed while you were burning calories lifting weights, counting your sit-ups, running on a treadmill or doing intense Zumba dancing.

Making all the necessary efforts to stay fit, when it comes to a post-workout diet, many are either too casual or simply uninformed about what to eat after a workout. It is often found that people, despite being regulars at the gym, are not getting the desired results, and it turns out that one reason for that is they never really thought about their post-workout diet.

Why is a post-workout diet so important?

You use up a lot of energy when you work out. Eating after a training session helps your body repair and recover.
You use up a lot of energy when you work out. Eating after a training session helps your body repair and recover.

Let’s try to understand how the body works and what happens when you are doing those strenuous exercises. The muscles undergo contraction and start using up all the stored glucose, and this leads to an increased protein breakdown. To improve the muscle quality, this process of wear and tear needs to be coupled with an adequate and immediate repair process. And to let this process continue unhindered and to extract the best out of it, a sufficient intake of protein and carbohydrates is crucial. This is precisely why you need to eat after a workout.

How long do I wait to eat after a workout?

Because your body needs the energy to help the muscles recover from a grueling workout, it is advised to eat something within 30 minutes of finishing your session. Immediately after the workout, your muscles are starving because of the depleted protein and hence the best time to take in a protein-rich diet. It is essential that the body restores the glycogen and protein consumed during the exercise and a fresh supply of these nutrients will ensure the development of muscle growth and strength is achieved.

In cases where you aren’t able to go for a meal, you should then have a snack that is rich in carbs and protein as they help the body to start rebuilding and repairing the muscles. Also, you have to rehydrate yourself as soon as you are done with your exercise.

So, what do I eat after a workout?

Avoid junk food to remain healthy.
Avoid junk food to remain healthy.

Definitely not a steaming hot dog. It’s not going to make up for the lost protein or those burnt carbohydrates. Basically, no junk food! It defeats the purpose. You need a better plan. But before we jump onto our list of suggestions, it is also important to understand that not everybody does the same exercises or for the same reasons. Also, not all the bodies behave precisely the same way.

So far we know that a combination of protein and some carbohydrates will make for a great post-workout diet. But what are the best sources of protein that you can include in your diet to eat after a workout?

An excellent post-workout diet combo

Some good sources of protein are eggs, seafood, chicken, and dairy products like milk cheese and yogurt. But wait. What if you are a vegan and don’t eat meat or animal products? Well, there are other natural sources which are almost equally rich in Protein. You can go for beans or soy protein (coming from soybeans), both being rich in proteins and also very good for your heart as its daily intake can help reduce bad cholesterol levels by about 3%.

Rich sources of carbohydrates are oatmeal, yams, brown rice, sweet potatoes, hot multigrain cereals and many more. There are plenty of vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian sources of both protein and carbs. The natural sources are very healthy and a must if you want to stay fit without having to worry about things like side effects from taking synthetic supplemental foods. Now that we know the best sources of carbs and protein all you need is to sort out the diets that contain these sources and chose one which you like the most.

Having a balanced meal of nutritious elements will keep you feeling good and healthy
Having a balanced meal of nutritious elements will keep you feeling good and healthy

Here’s your menu of what to eat after a workout:

  • Eggs and toast.
  • Fruit muesli with fresh yogurt.
  • Roasted or grilled chicken.
  • A tuna salad sandwich.
  • Pita and hummus
  • Salmon with sweet potato.
  • Cereal with milk.
  • Multigrain bread and raw peanuts.
  • Pancakes and eggs
  • Healthy peanut and caramel protein bar or raisin granola bars.
  • Chicken pasta
  • Avocado tuna salad.
  • Rice cake and apple cheese crackers.
  • Boiled spinach and egg white.
  • Stir fry tofu with chicken.
  • Dried nuts and fruits.

Well, this might seem a long list, but it’s just a sample of the many things you can choose. But what about those days when you don’t have an appetite for eating anything at all, especially not after your workout, or when you need to hydrate yourself and refill the electrolytes, minerals and essential sodium and potassium salts lost through all that sweating?

A protein shake or nutritious drink is beneficial for you post workout
A protein shake or nutritious drink is beneficial for you post workout

Well, then you need to drink something that is not only a substitute for a quick post-workout meal but also healthy and tastes good enough even when you are still cooling down after your daily workout session. So here we go with another list of quick drinks that energize, hydrate and compensate for those lost nutrients:

  • A homemade chocolate milkshake.
  • Banana shake with cheese.
  • An orange and mango smoothie.
  • Sweet potato pie protein shake.
  • Fresh strawberries and whole cereal parfait.
  • Protein or energy shake.
  • Tart cherry juice.

So finally, you have the suggestions you need to create your very own custom post-workout diet. This will certainly help you get the most out of those hours spent doing intense workouts.

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marion-fernandez is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival