My sister and I have a once-monthly Saturday tradition of working out together — usually, spin class or running (back when we used to do that) — and going to breakfast afterward. We work out together most weekends at least once, but only once a month do our schedules and diets (read: her diet) allow us to be as gluttonous as we are when we’re upholding this tradition. Neither of us have strict diets; we both usually just listen to our bodies and try and stick with moderation; her more so than I. That being said, I’m glad our tradition is only once a month because I’d have to exercise much, much more in order to be able to sustain a post-workout diet of steak, eggs, and waffles all the time.
So, if I’m not eating a hearty breakfast after a workout, what am I eating? Well, I can tell you, after most workouts, I’m hungry enough to eat a full steak, eggs, and waffle breakfast and, as an avid food-lover, it takes a lot for me not to do so. I’m much pickier than your average eater, so I won’t bore you with the details of what I do eat, but I will let you know what you should (and shouldn’t) be eating after a workout.
Whether you’re too busy, too tired, or too worried, you won’t lose weight/build muscle, if you don’t eat something, preferably within an hour or two of working out. If you’re lazy, like me, a protein shake is an easy solution — it’s quick, you can take it on the go, and requires minimal effort. If you’re not, feel free to prepare yourself a three-course meal, so long as it’s balanced and portioned correctly. People who don’t want to eat anything after a workout usually falls into two schools of thought, as follows:
- “I don’t want to undo my workout!” Losing and maintaining weight both follow the formula of calories in < calories out. So, as long as you don’t eat more calories than you burned, it won’t be an issue. In fact, not getting enough calories can sometimes keep you from losing weight. The average amount of calories consumed after a workout should be around half of what was burned.
- “I worked out late and didn’t want to eat a heavy meal before sleeping.” So don’t, it’s that simple. Instead, have a balanced dinner before your workout and a light snack after your workout. Hello, protein shake!
…But Not That.
Everybody knows by now that sports drinks usually have way too much sugar to actually be worth the benefits of electrolytes. So, generally, we want to keep away from those unless you’re working out for longer periods of time — when the sugars are needed. Water is a great way to replenish (and doesn’t it taste sooooo much better after a workout?!), but if you spend the whole day drinking water, sometimes you want a little more. Enter light versions of sports drinks and electrolyte replacement tablets. Both are good alternatives with fewer carbs; they’re pretty much more electrolyte/potassium for your carb/caloric buck. Electrolytes and potassium can also be absorbed through sodium (adding some salt to your post-workout meal) and fruits (oranges and bananas), respectively.
Is Butter a Carb?
Yes, yes, it is and no, that’s not a bad thing. Carbs are needed after a workout more than any of the other food categories so that your body can rebuild the glycogen stores that were expended in the workout. So this is the perfect time to eat your favorite high-carb food (yes, that technically includes sports drinks). Not sure what to eat? If you’re reading a nutrition label, you’re going to want on average 35 grams of carbs after a moderate, hour-long workout.
Stop With the Protein Shakes Already!
If I’m not feeling too lazy, I’ll blend protein powder with fruits and bam! Proteins and carbs and it tastes like a milkshake! (Are you noticing a correlation between my level of effort with food and how much I exercise? I digress). Protein is the next important food category you should be factoring when considering a post-workout meal. This will help rebuild your muscle from your workout and help prepare for your next workout. The ideal amount would be about 15-20 grams, again, for your average person and workout.
I would consider fat as a food category you want to include, but you don’t need to worry about it too much. The average person has an average of 10 grams leeway post-workout but, obviously, the less saturated fat, the better, no matter what your goals are.
So, What Should I Eat?
Some examples of post workout meals that fulfill these standards are:
- A sandwich with a lean protein (steak, chicken, fish)
- A homemade burrito with a lean protein and fresh salsa (yes, homemade, sorry Chipotle)
- A protein shake with some fruits blended in (betcha didn’t see that one coming)
- Eggs with toast, pancakes, potatoes, or waffles (pick one, not all)
- Almost any regular meal with the appropriate amounts of protein/meat, starch, and veggies
Of course, these are just a few examples. What’s your go-to post-workout meal?