If you've ever felt completely wiped out after a tough workout, you know firsthand why it's so important to replenish your body with a post-workout snack.
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Your body uses important resources to power through a sweat session, and if they are not quickly replenished your body's ability to recover is compromised. How soon after your workout you need to eat depends on the intensity of your workout and ranges from 15 minutes to 2 hours.
When to Eat
To replace the glycogen stores in your body quickly and effectively, eat a snack that contains both protein and carbohydrates. This will provide both fast-acting and sustainable energy to your body.
After a moderate-intensity workout, eat a snack within two hours of exercising. If you've exercised at a high intensity, eating sooner is better. After intense workouts, registered dietitian Christopher R. Mohr recommends eating within 15 minutes of your workout.
What to Eat
Don't sit down to a three-course meal immediately after working out. Instead, choose a light snack that will keep you energized without weighing you down. Healthy options include a slice of whole-grain bread with almond butter or a whole-grain pita pocket with a hard-boiled egg.
Stay away from foods that are high in saturated fat and oil, like fried foods and chips. Not only will you feel more lethargic after eating these foods, but you may also consume even more calories than you burned during your workout.
Nutrition bars are a convenient way to get nutrients and calories after a workout. But watch out — many bars contain as many calories as a whole meal. How many calories you need depends on how intense your workout was. Choose a bar in proportion and look for natural ingredients without added sugar.
Read more: The 9 Best Post-Workout Foods
If You're Not Hungry
Although it seems counterintuitive, working out can decrease your appetite for a short period. Even if you feel nauseous or full after finishing your workout, it's important to consume some type of replenishment.
Determine what might be appealing to you and keep it on hand. Drink plenty of water, then reach for a piece of fruit, a fruit smoothie, or a healthy sports bar. Eating a little bit in the short term will help you feel better in the long term.
Eat for Your Goals
There isn't a one-size-fits-all post-workout snack. What you eat will depend on your fitness goals. If you're trying to build muscle, you'll want more protein in your snack; if you're a long-distance runner, you need electrolytes and simple carbs ASAP after a training run.
If your goal is weight loss, you need to carefully balance your calorie intake with your calorie burn so that your snack isn't defeating the purpose of your workout. But don't get too caught up in the exact when and what — eating something is better than eating nothing.