You committed to your workout by writing it in red on your desk calendar. You added it to your iPhone calendar with pinging reminders. You got up, got dressed, and despite the freezing temperatures, you left the warmth of your home and "did the gym thing." Now you don’t know what to eat, how much to eat, what to drink, and, frankly, you do want those choices to maximize your gym efforts. You also don’t want to undermine that exercise effory consuming too many calories. So what should you eat and drink after the workout?
What kind of exerciser are you?
A weekend warrior who only exercises on Saturday and Sunday is different from a person who vigorously exercises daily, who is different from an athletic competitor or a professional athlete. Still, all exercisers should eat within 30 to 60 minutes after their workout, especially if they did not eat anything before the workout. The choices you make are crucial to muscle repair, replenishing energy, building new muscle mass, and helping you to be ready for your next workout.
A dose of protein, healthy fat and whole grain carbs
The protein component addresses muscle needs, the fat helps to restore depleted energy, and the carbs replenish the readily available energy stores, glycogen, that were immediately depleted during your workout. These foods also help to restore certain nutrients lost during the workout, as well. What are some healthy combinations? Try a smoothie with whey protein, peanut butter and a banana, or a Greek yogurt with walnuts and berries, or a hard-boiled egg, hummus and vegetables, or a whole-grain waffle with nut butter and fruit. Another great choice is a small whole grain tortilla wrap with avocado, tomatoes, and beans.
If your goal is weight loss, then choose your calories wisely and use strict portion control. Even if you are at a stable weight, don’t overeat simply because you exercised. That kind of "I deserve it" attitude can instigate weight creep. We also tend to over-estimate the number of calories we’ve burned during a workout. So it’s incredibly easy to grab a smoothie and a nutrition bar, which together can total in excess of 800 calories. That’s a post-workout feast and not a meal Assess your calories and your choices for optimal, portion-controlled nutrition.
You must rehydrate
Whether you sweat or not, there is loss and shifting of water. You also need to take humidity and temperatures into consideration, since high humidity interferes with the body’s natural cooling mechanism. You just need water to rehydrate if your exercise effort was under an hour. If you did sweat excessively or there is high humidity, then use an unsweetened electrolyte beverage, since you are already getting calories from your post-workout snack or meal. You should weigh yourself before and after exercise to see water losses. A good rule of thumb is to drink one or two cups of water before a workout, and to drink during the workout. Then replace fluids after the workout, especially if your urine is darker in color, which signifies dehydration.
The old adage, you are what you eat, in this case is crucial when it comes to your weight balance, your exercise effort, and your recovery. Follow these tips to get the most out of your next workout!
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Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”