Reviewed by: Erica An, APD, BNutr&Diet
With conflicting advice about the best after-workout snacks or meals, the confusion about what we should be eating after exercising, to best support our health and fitness goals is no surprise.
BUT, does what we eat post-workout really matter?
First, we must understand the importance of focusing on consistency and quality of food in our overall day’s nutrition. Eating the right food throughout the day is paramount to optimising your overall health and achieving your fitness goals. A ‘perfect’ post-exercise meal won’t make up for poor quality choices outside of this period. Once we have a balanced eating plan in place, research shows that appropriate nutrition and eating after exercising (preferably in the first 30- 60 minutes) does indeed improve our longer-term training results.
Let’s take a closer look…
For CARDIO focused workouts, think CARBOHYDRATE post-workout.
Heart-pumping, body-moving cardio workouts burn through a lot of energy. This energy typically comes from our bodies preferred fuel source glycogen, stored in our muscles.
The typical adult has about 500 grams of glycogen stored in their body, which equates to 2000 calories. If you are performing regular, prolonged high-intensity cardio workouts (60min or more) you should look to replenish your fuel stores pretty quickly after your workout. After every workout, you should aim to eat 1gm of carbohydrates, per 1kg of bodyweight e.g. if you weigh 70kg you should consume 70gm of carbohydrates after every cardio workout.
How this replacement looks will depend on your personal preference. For example, a 60kg individual can meet their requirements with a small tub of yoghurt with banana or muesli. With others who don’t like to eat too quickly after a workout, sports drinks designed for refuelling are still an option.
If you perform a moderate-intensity cardiovascular workouts of less than 60 minutes, consider reaching for a piece of fruit. Most fruit provides us with a great source of carbohydrate AND nutrients such as vitamins, fibre, antioxidants and phytonutrients, all working to manage our body’s inflammation, recovery and energy supply.
For the STRENGTH focused workouts, think PROTEIN post-workout.
To get stronger or gain muscle size, we must cause ‘stress’ (controlled damage) to our muscles. Lifting, pushing and pulling means that we damage our muscle fibres, which then require a decent amount of protein to be ‘repaired’. Consuming good quality protein soon after your strength session assists in this repair and growth process.
Although recommendations vary slightly, consuming 20-30 grams of protein within the first half-hour post-session is common.
Personal preference and convenience are again factors in protein choice. Although there’s no real evidence that protein powders are any better for us than whole food protein after training, many people do opt for a high-quality protein shake to meet their post-training nutrition requirements as it’s an easy option.
Whole foods are also a great option. Here are some food-based protein ideas; or for variety, you can select 2 or 3 options at 10 grams each.
- 40g of cooked lean beef/pork/lamb
- 40g skinless cooked chicken
- 50g of canned tuna/salmon or cooked fish
- 300 ml of milk/glass of Milo
- 200g tub of yoghurt
- 1.5 slices (30g) of cheese
- 2 eggs
- 120g of tofu
- 200g of baked beans
- 60g of nuts
- 0.75 cup cooked lentils/kidney beans
Although we are talking about eating after exercising, we must mention a quick note about hydration…or re-hydration to be exact. Even a slight decrease in our hydration status (acute or chronic) can affect the way our body performs, utilises fuel AND repairs. After you exercise it’s equally important to monitor your water intake, the amount you sweat and your urine colour. For more information, see: https://www.12wbt.com/blog/nutrition/how-much-water-to-drink
SO, does what we eat post-workout really matter?
Especially if you are doing multiple sessions in one day or training multiple times a week. BUT, it is important to remember that a regular balanced diet is ESSENTIAL to ensure our body works and repairs optimally throughout the day, and not just after exercise.
If you are looking to prepare for a competitive race, or you are training in any sport at an elite level, then we recommend seeking further personalised advice from a sports dietitian. For those who aren’t, this link provides more support and general guidance in finding your healthy habits https://www.12wbt.com.