Meet Mary Creel, one of our on-staff Registered Dietitians and the host of a new series eMeals launched (click for part one) about eating healthy and staying fit. An avid marathoner, Ironman triathlete, and all-around champ in the health world, Mary is the perfect expert to answer your fitness/nutrition questions. Feel free to leave your questions in the comments section for Mary to answer throughout the series.
Post-workout meals are often dismissed or given less attention because you’re done and onto something else. But what you eat or don’t eat makes a difference in the next workout.
The ideal time to eat after a workout is within 30 minutes to two hours, when your body is ready and waiting to top off its fuel tanks to prepare for your next workout.
Within 30 minutes of completing your workout, drink 8 ounces of water. If you’re heavy sweater, weigh yourself before and after your workout, and drink an additional 16 to 24 ounces for each pound you lost during your workout.
But if your appetite or schedule doesn’t allow you to eat a meal right after your exercise session, don’t panic. You can still replace your muscle fuel over the next 24 hours, as long as you’re eating enough food to support your activity level. If possible, have a smaller snack that contains carbs and protein as soon after exercise as possible such as a carton of chocolate milk or and energy.
So, what does the ideal meal or snack look like?
Ideally, try to eat enough calories to equal 50% of the calories you burned during your workout. So if you burn about 600 calories during your workout, try to eat 300 calories afterward. Don’t worry about undoing the calorie-burning benefits of your workout–that’s not how weight loss works. As long as you’re eating within your recommended calorie range, you’ll be on your way to reaching your goals.
Related Recipes: Low Calorie Garlic Shrimp with Blistered Tomatoes and Linguine and Low-Calorie Spicy Chicken with Skillet Corn Salsa
Related Article: How to Make Low-Calorie Recipes
Carbohydrates replace the muscle fuel (glycogen) you used up to prepare for your next exercise session. After an hour of exercise, such as a spin class or 5-mile walk, aim for 30 to 40 grams of carbohydrates. If your workout was more intense, such as racing a 10K or an interval training class at the gym, shoot for 50 to 60 grams.
Use this meal as an opportunity to include whole grains and high-fiber foods that you wouldn’t choose to eat before a workout.
Related Recipe: Low-Calorie Citrusy Couscous and Edamame Salad
Include high-quality protein to stop your body from breaking down muscle tissue for energy and start the process of rebuilding and repairing your muscles. About 25% of the calories you eat after a workout should come from protein—That’s about 10 to 15 grams for most people. Here are some ideas:
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter = 8 grams
- 1 hard-boiled egg = 6 grams
- 1/2 cup cottage cheese = 15 grams
- 1 oz Cheddar cheese = 8 grams protein. So an apple and some cheese as a healthy, well-balanced snack
- 1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt = 22 grams! That’s twice the protein as regular yogurt.
Super-quick Recipe Idea: Drizzle 1 tablespoon of honey over 1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt, or put it the yogurt in a blender with a frozen banana and 11/2 cups soy milk and enjoy a delicious, filling smoothie!
Fat doesn’t play a big role in post-workout recovery, and eating too much fat after a workout won’t help your weight control or fitness endeavors. Only 15% (or less) of your post-workout calories should come from fat (that’s less than 10 grams).
If you include a variety of fitness activities in your routine, keep in mind that other types of exercise, such as yoga, barre or Pilates, challenge your cardio and muscular systems. It might be tempting to splurge after working out because your body and mind are relaxed and feel great. First things first: You need water and fluids. Water is essential after any workout—and yoga is no exception. Water rehydrates, refuels and replenishes. If you are not a fan of plain water, consider coconut water. Or, another simple solution is to keep lemons, limes and oranges on hand. Squeeze fresh lime, lemon or orange juice into your water for added flavor and vitamin C benefits!
High protein foods are very important to keep your muscles from being too sore after your yoga workout.
It’s not unusual to be ravenous after a workout, making it easy to eat more than you really need or choose foods that won’t really help your body recover. But eating too much of the wrong thing can do the opposite of what you want: It can cause your body to store that food as fat instead of using your post-workout food to refuel and repair your muscles.
Feel free to leave your questions in the comments! And click here to check out our eMeals Healthy Lunch and Low-Calorie plans, which can help you eat healthy lunches and dinners to support your weight-loss or health-related goals.
– Text by Mary Creel