Exercise can enhance your energy levels, body composition, moods and overall health. If you fail to eat properly, however, you can miss out on these benefits. Although eating after exercise is "extremely important," according to Iowa State University Extension, your overall diet plays the biggest role in your wellness and workout success. An ideal diet contains a variety of nutritious foods and sufficient amounts of calories. For best results, seek guidance from your doctor or dietitian before changing your diet.
Your post-exercise meal determines your energy level and recovery for upcoming workouts, according to ISUE. During exercise, your body uses glycogen, which is energy stored in your muscles. Eating shortly afterward replenishes your glycogen, promoting proper recovery and lowering your risk for fatigue. It also lowers your risk for dehydration and low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia.
Within two hours of your exercise session, eat a meal or snack that contains carbohydrates and protein. Valuable snack options include a peanut butter or lean meat sandwich; yogurt and fruit; dried fruit with nuts; and crackers with cheese. You can also opt for a balanced meal containing a starch, like brown rice, whole-grain bread or a potato; a protein-rich food, like low-fat milk, fish or tofu; and fresh or cooked vegetables.
Replenishing lost fluids should be your first priority after exercise, according to ISUE. You can accomplish this by drinking water, pure fruit or vegetable juice, a smoothie or a sports drink. Sports drinks, which contain electrolytes — minerals that play an important role in muscle and heart function — can be helpful after lengthy workouts; exercising longer than 60 minutes increases your risk for electrolyte imbalances. And the carbohydrates in sports drinks can help replenish lost glycogen. As a general rule, drink 2 to 3 cups of fluid after your workout.
Eating carbohydrate-rich foods and drinks, like fruit, juices and breads, 15 to 60 minutes after exercise is the ideal time, according to Health Services at Columbia University. This is when enzymes that produce glycogen are the most active, which can lead to depletion if you do not refuel with food. Eat protein and carbohydrate-rich foods within two hours of your workout.