We’ve already learned about the best pre-workout foods, but what about eating after sweating, grunting and otherwise burning calories? The first hour to two hours after you get your sweat on is when your muscles are begging for nutrients and energy. This doesn’t mean you should start working on your night cheese or going to town on that huge chocolate block, however, there are a few nutrients essential to a body post-workout snack or meal.
Amino Acids and Protein: Restore Those Muscles
Exercise depletes amino acids stores in the body. These are protein’s building blocks that the body uses to make muscles, bones, hormones, neurotransmitters…you know, important stuff. Since sweating to the oldies, taking that dance class, rock climbing or whatever you do to workout feeds on essential amino acids such as glutamine, valine, isoleucine and leucine, you’ll want to consume protein to restore them. This will also help build lean muscle mass!
Try protein-rich foods such as Greek yogurt, hummus, fish, whole wheat cereal and smoothies with protein powder or almond/hemp/soy milk. Skinless chicken with mixed veggie sides is also a great post-sweat-a-thon option.
Carbohydrates: Restore That Energy Supply
Carbs are super-important to chow down on pre-and-post-workout, as exercise requires a significant glycogen supply so your legs don’t give out from under you. Glycogen is the stored form of sugar in the body, and waits patiently in the liver until physical activity requires its power. This is why athletes love carbs so much–they do best when glycogen reserves are high and therefore avoid floppy Muppet arms and legs. As when eating pre-workout, complex carbs are your best bet as they take the body a long time to digest, thus providing you with a heck of a lot of fuel. Think oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice and other whole grain dishes, vegetables and fruit.
Combo Ideas: Get Everything You Need With One Meal!
Try combining protein with carbs to get the most out of your post-workout meal, such as Greek yogurt with lots of fruit, chicken with rice and steamed vegetables, turkey sandwich on whole grain bread, apples with peanut butter, or a veggie omelet on whole grain toast. Note that Greek yogurt is a better option than, uh, not-Greek yogurt as it packs much more protein.
Other balanced post-workout meal ideas include wild salmon, sweet potato and spinach. This meal provides essential fatty acids and protein in the form of salmon, slow-burning carbs thanks to the sweet potato, and tons of fabulous vitamins and minerals from the spinach. The latter also includes lutein, which contributes to eye health. Add flaxseed or almond oil to the salmon for an extra boost of nutrition, but remember to keep portions on the smaller side as this is a high-calorie meal.
If you’re paranoid about portion size, try a veggie omelet made with one large egg, avocado and other veggies for a perfect post-workout yum-fest. A handful of dried fruit and nuts is another easy option, or low-fat Greek yogurt with two tbsp. of low-fat granola. High-protein breakfast cereals will also provide that necessary balance.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to eat after working out! Forget and you’re only going to make reaching that fitness goal harder on yourself, and who wants to do that?? Eat before and after you workout to get the most out of what you’re doing, and don’t forget to stay hydrated during your workout!