Aug 5 2009

Eating After Exercise: We Fully Explain the How & Why.

You’ve just finished one of your best workouts. Do you know what—and when—you need to eat in order to maximize your results? We’ve got the answers right here.

With our earlier article focusing entirely on what to eat before exercising, we’d be remiss to not explain what you should be eating after your workout. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do today.

We’ve traveled across the internet and called upon many of the same experts who explained what, when, and why to eat before a workout. We’ve broken things down into a few different sections: first, a quick run-down of the science behind eating for recovery, then a word about fluids. 

Finally, we get into the timing of your post workout eating, the types of foods that work the best, and some of the guiding principles to keep in mind. Let’s go!

WHAT’S THE POINT OF EATING AFTER EXERCISE?

It’s all about two things: recovery and storage. You need to recover the losses you undertook during the exercise, and your body is simply better at storing that recovery fuel right after your workout. Sure, you can eat later—but the benefits won’t be as good.

The sports medicine pros at ESPN explain it: “athletes need carbohydrate and fluid to replace glycogen and water losses during the exercise. The muscles store more glycogen immediately after exercise than they do later.” Simple, no?

We’ll talk about what to eat shortly, but generally you want to stick to carbs and protein. Why, exactly? Well says about.com —protein “provides the amino acids necessary to rebuild muscle tissue that is damaged during intense, prolonged exercise. It can also increase the absorption of water from the intestines and improve muscle hydration. The amino acids in protein can also stimulate the immune system, making you more resistant to colds and other infections.”

While you might find some advice that suggests carbs will serve you fine on their own, we noticed “one study found that athletes who refueled with carbohydrate and protein had 100 percent greater muscle glycogen stores than those who only ate carbohydrate. Insulin was also highest in those who consumed a carbohydrate and protein drink.” The magic ratio seems to be 4:1—for every four grams of carbs, you should have one gram of protein.

There was one more piece of advice that we found interesting. Apparently, eating post-workout is most important for those who workout nearly every day—and if you’re following a lot of the routines on the site right now, that’s you

But if you’re the kind of person who only “works out 2 -3 times per week, you need not worry as much about post-exercise foods because your body will have enough time between workouts to recover,” says Columbia University. Notice that if you’re a lighter exerciser you need not worry as much—but if you want to follow the advice anyway—do it!

THE RE-HYDRATION ESSENTIALS.

There isn’t a ton of information on drinking water after exercise, and for good reason—it’s simply obligatory. That’s always your #1 priority, especially if you’ve gone for a run and haven’t had access to any water during it. 

If you want to get really scientific about it, about.com recommends weighing yourself pre- and post-workout, and using the difference to replace fluid losses. For example, drink 20-24 fl oz of water for every 1 lb lost (that would be about 650mL per 0.45kg, for the Canadians among us).

Of course, most of you will just hit that water bottle with abandon, especially after following some of Zuzana’s more torture-like workouts ;) And that’s a very good thing.

WHEN TO EAT.

Do we need to eat right away? You might say no, not exactly—you probably want to get some fluids into you, towel off, get changed, take a quick shower—whatever your normal post-workout routine is. 

But according to the New York Times Well Blog, those first 15 minutes are crucial: “the enzymes that help the body resynthesize muscle glycogen are really most active in that first 15 minutes. The longer we wait to eat something, the longer it takes to recover.”

If you can’t get to some proper food within those first 15 minutes, make sure you get something in your stomach within an hour, maximum, post-workout. You won’t get much increased storage at all if you wait longer than that.

WHAT TO EAT—WITH REAL SUGGESTIONS.

Ah, and now the crucial question, where we move away from talk of abstract carbohydrates and protein, and into actual suggestions for the kind of things you should scarf down post-workout.

ESPN suggests that sports drinks are better during a workout, but juices are better afterwards, when our body needs those carbs. 

One crucial notion is digestion: if our bodies aren’t used to processing food after a workout, it might be difficult to digest solid foods right away, especially after some long, serious endurance work. About.com suggests the “4:1 combo of carbohydrate and protein [but] a drink may be easier to digest and make it easier to get the right ratio.”

Columbia University comes at us with some real food suggestions: “eat a few slices of turkey on a wheat bagel, or have a large glass of protein fortified milk. The most important nutritional strategy post workout, though, is fluid replacement. Drink water, juice, or carbohydrate rich sports drinks to replace what you sweat out.” All good advice, although be careful of sports drinks that function more as sugar-delivery systems than workout tools.

There’s a ton of marketing behind them, and 9 times out of 10, you’re better off drinking water and using that sports-drink money on a piece of real food (or, in this case, some real fruit juice). Make sure you don’t use your post-workout eating as a chance to load up on too much sugar, or things you might not eat if you hadn’t worked out. And avoid fats for the same reason you avoided them before you exercised: they’re too hard for your stomach to digest after all that work.

We also found a rock-solid recommendation from the Australian Government’s sports department. It’s definitely worth reading: “Many athletes fall into the trap of becoming reliant on sports food supplements, believing this to be the only and/or best way to meet their recovery goals.   

This often results in athletes “doubling up” with their recovery, consuming a sports food supplement that meets certain recovery goals, e.g. liquid meal supplement, then following this up soon afterwards with a meal that would help them meet the same recovery goal, e.g. bowl of cereal with fresh fruit.  

Unless constrained by poor availability or lack of time, athletes are best advised to favour real food/fluid options that allow them to meet recovery and other dietary goals simultaneously.  This is especially important for athletes on a low energy budget.” Top advice.

THE FINAL BITS OF ADVICE.

Eating after exercise takes some time to get used to. Remember that if you’re working out just 2-3 times a week, it’s not as fundamentally important to concentrate on your post-workout recovery. But if you’re working out nearly every day—it’s essential

And don’t think of your post-workout food as a proper meal: the portion sizes should never get that big. Says the Well Blog: “it’s a small amount – a fist-sized quantity. Low-fat chocolate milk works very well. The goal is not a post-exercise meal. It’s really a post-exercise appetizer to help the body recover as quickly as it can.” That’s a strange-but-perfect way to think about it: a post-exercise appetizer

Keep these general principles in mind, eat clean and healthy above all, and you’ll be recovering from Zuzana’s workouts in no time. Well, maybe not in no time…

Best,

Frederick

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  • cory

    she sexualizes fitness

  • Nati

    Hi,

    I have read a lot of articles about fitness food and pre and post-workout meals and I’m still confused. However, there are several things that are the same in all articles.

    Food recommended before workout:
    cereals
    yogurt
    banana
    almonds
    pasta
    *simple carbs

    Food recommended after workout:
    chocolate milk
    eggs
    chicken with potato or rice
    *mix of protein and carbs with concentration on carbs

    Is it right Zuzana?

    I have been following Zuzana’s workouts for a year and half but I haven’t managed still to get such a body (I don’t now why :@) I am starting with some new workouts (again from Zuzana’s archive) on Monday, and some serious meal planning.

    Keep you posting.

  • http://alinabotica.blogspot.com Alina

    Hi Zuzana, I do my exercises late in the evening, finish at 8 or past 8. Should i eat at this our? Or can i just drink 100-200ml of yougurt(0.9% fat)?
    Thank’s, Alina.

  • lina

    Hi Zuzana,
    You wrote so much about post work-out eating, but it still confuses me a little! Such as eating fat. If I train in the morning, how many hours after am I allowed to eat some fat? SHould I avoid them all day long or is it just the first meal that is important?
    I also read that eatings carbs after the work out is important only for professional sports people who need to keep improving their performance. However, for people who want to loose weight only protein after workout is recommended. Is that true?

  • alice x

    Can you eat a bannana after a workout?
    They are my favorite fruit.
    alice x.

  • Sartorius218

    …by the way. For those who are asking themselves, why shouldn’t I use MILK as my source of protein:
    Milk is difficult to digest, and much of its calcium never gets into the bloodstream. Milk is also high in phosphorus, which binds to calcium and makes it less absorbable. Much of this calcium is then excreted in the urine. A study of U.S. women published May 9 in the LANCET links insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) with breast cancer. Earlier this year a study linked IGF-1 to prostate cancer. IGF-1 levels are now being artificially increased in much of the cows’ milk being sold throughout the U.S. These new cancer studies raise serious questions about the wisdom of allowing IGF-1 levels to be raised in milk. There’s BIG money in dairy–know your history, research, read the literature and be healthy!

  • Sartorius218

    Thank you for posting these articles and I love your work out vids! I would like to comment on the chocolate milk post work out. While fats are crucial to your nervous system (among others) and you must consume some fat everyday, I wouldn’t recommend milk as your recovery food. Stick to the proteins post exercise. If you want calcium, broccoli is king, if you want fats, please get them from seeds, nuts, unsat. oils, fish. Stay clean with your foods. If you want chocolate, put some chocolate protein powder for your mucsles, add some peanut butter while you’re at it, flax seeds (those omegas), green powder (that’s all your vegetables in powder form–not just seaweed or wheat grass), add some buffered Vit. C for skin repair, ice, rice or almond milk. YUM!

  • Nidia

    Hi! i become a fan of your web!! Today i work out my butt and abs like you say in your video in january ;P i loveee it!
    Thank u very much for shared this amaaazing information! after my work i took a chocolate protein with a banana and 3 spoons of oats -my coach recomended- but i don’t know ;/ for a woman, 25 years old, 120 pounds it is good? i don’t want to be like a bodybulding person, and i want to burn fat (bellyfat). Could you post something about protein shakes? with chocolate, bananas and oats? :S Please i need some information, for my mentaly healt. I don’t know what to eat for my muscles but i want burn my belly fat. I do cardio and lifting weight. Help me please :)
    (sorry for my english)

    Thanks.
    Nid

  • Marina

    Hi Zuzana and Frederick!
    Thank you for you great activity: I do check your site on a regular basis and I must say it’s my source of motivation when I feel tired. :)

    I exercise from 8 to10 pm. I do weight training + 30 min of cardio afterward. I eat before my workout, it’s all fine, but isn’t it too late to eat even a small “appetizer” right after at 10 pm? (I eat chicken breast meat (around 50 grams) between 2 a finn crisps (thin rye crust)
    am I doing right?
    Thanks for the answer!

    PS: Zuzana you are very beautiful! I checked two times Boot Camp Workout I didn’t see any “bulkyness” although I’m very concerned about it too.

  • Gina M.

    Hello!
    Thank you for the “eating, before and after”.

    For “after”, you said I was a good idea to eat carbs and protein during the 15 minutes following workout. I have two questions: Does the time stretching after the effort counts? I suspect it does, because it’s still an effort, even if it’s smaller, but I wanted to be sure. I was also wondering if you had any suggestions of a carb-protein vegan snack. I’ve been having I slice of whole wheat bread with smashed red beans on it, and a little bit of fresh chives for taste. Is this OK?

    Thank you!

    I also have a question/suggestion for more before-and-after. I’ve read some people take cold showers right after working out, and that this was a good thing. But I have also read the contrary: that either we should wait until the body returns to its normal temperature in order to take a shower, or take warm showers after exercising because cold water could be quite a choc… Do you know anything about this? What is your opinion?
    I like cold showers; I find them more refreshing than hot showers. I prefer taking a shower some minutes after exercising (after my carb-protein snack ;) ) so my body is usually still hot. In that case I prefer if the water is cool.

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  • Christina

    Hi Zuzana! I just wanted to say I love your site :) It really promotes a healthy lifestyle. The only thing thats bothering me is my legs. Im 16 years old and about 105lbs. Im fine with my weight, but im a runner and i tend to bulk up on my thighs, is there anything I can eat or do to tone and slim them down? I would love to get some feedback :) Thanks :)
    -Christina

    • http://www.bodyrock.tv/ Zuzana – BodyRock.Tv

      Hi Christina,
      the more you feed your muscles the more they will grow. Try to follow the clean diet and keep your portions small. Women usually bulk up when they do some heavy weight training or other vigorous activity because they get more hungry and they start to eat more. If you eat often and keep your portions tiny, you won’t bulk up.

  • http://www.SavageRandy.com Randy Savage

    I always have a protein shake after my workouts. Is that not recommended?

    I use Full Blown Extreme as my preworkout drink, but only if I’m working out with weights.

    I’ve recently taken up running with the Nike+ system as well.

    I plan to alternate my weight training and running program, now that I have gotten my weight to where I want it to be.

  • Kristina

    great advice! may I suggest the Guru Energy drink for during workout consumption? It’s 100% Organic, no nasty fake chemicals or ingredients, sweetened with cane sugar and only 100 calories per can! It tastes like lemonade and works pretty well. Their iced tea isn’t bad either, just 13 more calories per serving. I would avoid their tangerine and fruit punch ones though, they have a lot more sugar in them (natural, but still sugar).

    I’ve found that bagels are really treacherous! I grew up in an area where there were a lot of French immigrants and the bagels that saturated the local market were REAL bagels; very small and made with high quality ingredients. The bagels we find at Timmies for example are awful for us; not only are they enormous but they’re loaded with refined sugars and flour. I actually don’t eat a ton of bread but I get plenty of grains. Perhaps oatmeal or quinoa is a better post work out food? What do you think?

  • ruth

    Hi!

    Thank you for this great article! I’ve struggled with when/what to eat before and after working out. I work out really hard 6 days a week and usually go home, shower and all that before eating. I could do the chocolate milk suggestion but I’m wondering, how clean is chocolate milk? It seems like the chocolate would make it “unclean,” so to speak.

    I love your site, you’ve obviously put a lot into it, it’s such a great resource!

    Best to you,

    Ruth :)

  • kperez

    I have a question. I seem to work night shift and find it hard to eat sometimes. What can i possibly eat thats fast and portable and have all the things that i need in a meal or snack. Also what do you eat say… when you know you are going to be out all day and dont have your regular meal plans with you?

    KPerez

  • Michelle M

    Nicely put!

    For me, I always have chocolate milk right after a workout. It’s nice to see that this is one of your suggestions!

    Love your diet advice, keep up the great work!

    Michelle

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