In honor of National Nutrition Month, I thought I would answer a question I get asked frequently: What should you eat when you work out?
First of all, let me say that it’s a good thing that you have the mindset to be thinking about what role nutrition plays in an active lifestyle. The foods you eat fuel your body, so it’s important to be filling up with the nutrition you need.
Secondly, the answer to this question is “it depends”. I don’t mean that as a cop out, and I’ll give you some guidelines to follow, but I really want to encourage you to experiment with different options and see how your body responds. Even if we do the same workouts everyday and eat the same meals everyday, our bodies are not going to behave the same way everyday. Once you start trying things out, you’ll notice patterns and can better prepare for your own needs.
And last, before we get to the guidelines, if you aren’t engaging in more than light exercise, such as slow walking or low-intensity resistance training, then a post-exercise meal is not necessary–you can eat as usual. But for those times when we’re more active, we can use the following guidelines to ensure that we are repairing and restoring our bodies so as not to feel sore, low on energy, or fatigued.
The Optimal Post-Exercise Meal
- Contains both carbohydrates and protein. The ideal ratio is somewhere in the range of 3:1 or 4:1 carbohydrates-to-protein, but a meal that carb-heavy would also pack a lot of calories, so a 2:1 ratio is more manageable for most people.
- Is consumed within 30-45 minutes after exercise. Timing your meal within this recovery window can mean the difference between recovering in 4-10 hours versus 24-36 hours later.
- Includes a mix of rapidly and slowly digested carbohydrates and high-quality proteins. Simple sugars provide you with an immediate supply of glucose, and complex carbs provide an extended release for complete recovery. Animal proteins provide a more complete amino acid profile, so if your protein source is plant-based, make sure you are using complementary sources for a balanced profile.
For ease of incorporation and to take advantage of maximizing the repair and restoration process, I would recommend planning your exercise before one of your primary meals.
Here are some easy meal ideas:
Breakfast: Breakfast Quinoa – Cookie and Kate
Reference: Keith B. Wheeler, “Optimal Recovery After Exercise: Nutrient Timing”. IDEA Fitness Journal. March 2013.