Refueling your body with appropriate food after running, biking or other cardiovascular exercise enhances recovery, staving off fatigue and low blood sugar. Because physical activity sensitizes your muscle tissue to certain nutrients and hormones, according to Marie Spano, a registered dietitian and contributing writer for "Today's Dietitian," your muscles respond best to nutrients taken in within 30 minutes post-workout.
Carbs After Cardio
Grains provide valuable amounts of carbohydrates, which is the main fuel source for your body and muscles, particularly after lengthy cardio. While they aren't often the healthiest choices, high-glycemic carbohydrate sources, such as a white English muffin or bagel, restore energy in your muscles the fastest. For less rapid restoration, but more nutrients and better stabilized blood sugar levels later on, have whole-grain foods, such as oatmeal or 100 percent whole-grain bread. For the best of both words, top whole-grain bread or oatmeal with honey, which provides fast-acting, higher-glycemic carb for your post cardio meal.
Choose Fresh Fruit
Fresh fruit provides a convenient and nutritious carbohydrate-rich option after aerobic activity. It also provides valuable amounts of fluid, which is important for preventing dehydration after perspiration. Fruits particularly rich in water include watermelon, apples, citrus fruits, strawberries, cherries and apricots. While fruit juices provide a fast-acting carbohydrate source, they typically lack fiber and provide concentrated amounts of natural sugar. Instead, have a fresh fruit smoothie, using the entire fruit. For a rich boost of potassium, which you lose through sweat, choose high-potassium fruits, such as bananas, apricots and cantaloupes.
Lean Protein Options
Eat protein after cardio. While carbohydrates should be the focus of your post-cardio diet, adding a moderate amount of protein, or 7 to 10 grams, helps stimulate muscle growth and repair. Prepare your oatmeal with a cup of low-fat milk, or have 1/2 cup of cooked lentils with your whole-grain crackers. Other nutritious protein sources include low-fat yogurt, fish, lean meats, eggs and quinoa.
Post-Exercise Sodium Sources
While consuming excessive amounts of sodium works against heart health, making sure you maintain proper levels is important — particularly if you perspire intensely during cardio. Soccer and football players are known to sweat off anywhere from 172 to 1,139 milligrams while playing. Spano recommends having sports drinks containing sodium or water with a meal containing sodium as ideal choices. Roasted nuts, bran flakes, instant cereal and frozen waffles provide between 200 and 300 milligrams of sodium per serving. You can also add a dash of salt to your oatmeal or smoothie.
Although fresh, whole foods are the healthiest foods after cardio, other options are available if you're short on time. Prepared shakes and bars are a convenient food choice after cardio. Look for ones that provide protein in addition to carbs to help your muscles recover. Choose options that have limited or no added sugar for optimal nutritional value. Many stores also offer individually wrapped hard-boiled eggs, single servings of cheese and small bags of nuts or seeds as convenient, healthy options.
- Today's Dietitian: Postexercise Recovery -- Proper Nutrition Is Key to Refuel, Rehydrate, and Rebuild After Strenuous Workouts
- Harvard Health Publications: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load
- Iowa State University Extension: Fluids
- Columbia University Go Ask Alice!: Is Juice as Good as Whole Fruit?
- Iowa State University Extension: Training Diet
- Cleveland Clinic: Low-Sodium Diet Guidelines
- Colorado State University Extension: Potassium and the Diet