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By: Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN

Most people understand the importance of fitness and exercise for health, but how much focus should be placed on the pre- and post-workout meal? There is a great deal of confusion about when you should eat after a workout, as the post-exercise “window of opportunity” is a crucial part of nutrition and recovery.

Why Do You Need a Post-Workout Snack?

The post-workout snack or meal has several purposes. First, it helps repair and rebuild muscle stores, replenish glycogen (stored carbohydrates) and energy reserves, and prevent overactive appetites later on. Furthermore, our cells are more sensitive to insulin after a workout, which better facilitates the entry of glucose to be used and stored as glycogen for the future. Replenishing glycogen in the muscles also helps prevent unnecessary protein breakdown.

RELATED: These Pre- and Post-Workout Foods Are Packed with Protein

The old recommendation to eat within 30 minutes of working out isn’t necessarily seen as the gold standard anymore, as recent research hints towards a longer window of one to two hours. We know that the window may vary according to the type of exercise completed, the time and intensity of the exercise, the weather, and how trained the individual is. It’s also important to consider whether an athlete ate before his or her workout. If it’s been a few hours since his or her last meal, the post-workout snack should be eaten sooner rather than later to prevent blood sugar from dipping too low.

If the post-workout snack or meal is consistently delayed, there can be negative consequences, including faster fatigue, poor muscle recovery, and a higher chance of injury.

So, What Exactly Should You Eat?

Post-workout nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. Generally, after a workout, you should aim for a combination of protein (through amino acids) and carbohydrates. The protein helps to repair the working muscles, while the carbohydrates help to replenish glycogen stores for future training sessions. Consuming both together can increase muscle protein synthesis. Along with protein and carbohydrates, athletes should also rehydrate with both water and electrolytes.

Here are some easy post-workout snack ideas:

  • A smoothie with fruit, your choice of milk, and Collagen Whey
  • Collagen Water and dried fruit and nut trail mix
  • Bowl of cereal
  • Yogurt and fruit

And some easy post-workout meal ideas:

  • Burrito bowl with brown rice, your choice of protein, and vegetables
  • Grilled salmon, sweet potato, and asparagus
  • Vegetable omelet with toast and coffee with Collagen Creamer

RELATED:How Much Hydration Do You Need for Your Workouts?

How Should Nutrition Differ Between Shorter and Longer Workouts?

It’s typically not necessary to add extra meals or snacks in after shorter workouts or lower-intensity exercises, such as yoga or walking. An exception to this is if it’s been hours since your previous meal or snack. Another key point is that the body continues to recover for up to 24 to 48 hours after a workout, so ideally, athletes should continue to eat consistently balanced meals with sufficient carbohydrates and 20-30 grams of protein per meal throughout the day.