Whether we’re talking buzzer beaters or marriage proposals, we all know that timing is everything. That’s also true when it comes to what you eat. Depending on the time of day or what situation you’re in, your body needs certain nutritional properties to help you get through—so you can work and live at your optimal level.
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Food creates all kinds of hormonal reactions in your body—reactions that affect your mood, your alertness, your energy level, and everything in between. So while you may already know what you need to eat, it’s also important to know when to eat it. Follow our guide for the best foods to eat no matter what situation you’re in.
What to Eat… After a Tough Training Workout
When you put your muscles through a test, they’re like undergrads studying for finals—stressed and broken down. To respond to the next challenge, they’ll grow; that’s how you get stronger. But in order to take full advantage of that growth cycles, your muscles need proper nutrition.
Follow this formula for post-workout snacks: The carbohydrate-to-protein ratio should be 2:1 for short, low-to moderate intensity workouts or 3:1 in long, high intensity training sessions, says Andrea Hacker Thompson, MS, RD, of the ACSM Fit Society Page. The carbs will replenish the glycogen stores (that is, the stored glucose that provides energy), and the protein will rebuild the muscles.
Eat 30 minutes to one hour after completing your workout, because that’s the best window for your body to absorb the nutrients after a workout. Try a glass of chocolate milk or all-natural peanut butter on a piece of 100-percent whole wheat bread.
What to Eat… After a Long Meeting
If you feel foggy after sitting through a 200-slide PowerPoint presentation, munch on a few almonds. They provide healthy fats and a little protein, says Lauren O’Connor, RD, from Nutri-Savvy. Research published in the journal Neuron shows protein, not sugar, activates the cells that keep us awake and burning calories.
While whole grain carbohydrates provide the glucose that keeps the brain going, protein is what guarantees that you won’t forget what the meeting was about in the first place. That’s especially true when protein is rich in the amino acid tyrosine, a neurotransmitter that is critical for brain energy and alertness (one ounce of almonds contains 127 mg of tyrosine).
What to Eat… At the Finish Line
After any endurance event, replacing sweat loss should be your number one priority. That’s because you need to replace those glycogen stores. The best post-marathon foods and drinks will contain mostly carbohydrates, some vitamins and small amount of protein to help replenish those deleted stores, says Shari Portnoy, RD, CPT, a registered dietitian and certified fitness trainer. Even after a short race like a 5K, you should replenish what you depleted (just in smaller amounts).
Since liquid is more easily digested than solids and carbohydrates are more easily digested than protein, runners should go for regular or chocolate milk, says Ximena Jimenez, RD, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Chocolate milk has the desired 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein, and it helps replace other nutrients. “It’s actually a great source of electrolytes, especially potassium,” Jimenez says. For instance, 8 ounces of Gatorade has 30 mg of potassium versus 400 mg in low-fat milk and 425 in chocolate milk—and that’s important because you can lose potassium in endurance events.
What to Eat… After a Restless Night
Spent the night pounding pillows? The groggy feeling you’ll have the following morning isn’t your only problem. Researchers at UCLA researchers found that poor sleep causes increased ghrelin and decreased leptin during the day, which can lead to an increased appetite and overeating.
To combat this, start your day off with lean protein. Try an ounce of nuts or three ounces (abut a size of a deck of cards) of lean meat, which will keep you feeling satisfied longer. You can also try Greek yogurt mixed with a banana and some Chia seeds sprinkled in.
What to Eat… After a Night Out
When your happy hour gets out of hand, consider Jimenez’s morning fix: “The next day have a virgin Bloody Mary. It’s an easy hangover cure. The tomato juice will replenish your body from water and electrolyte losses caused by an alcohol binge.”
To cut back on that “ugh” feeling before it strikes, try pear cactus, says Erin Palinski, RD, author of the forthcoming book, Belly Fat Diet for Dummies. Researchers at Tulane University found that people who took capsules of pear cactus 5 hours before starting to drink experienced 50 percent fewer hangover symptoms.
The theory: Since excessive alcohol is essentially toxic to the body, the body responds by using the inflammatory response to counteract the effects of excessive alcohol and the damage it may cause to cells and organs. Compounds in pear cactus help decrease that inflammation.