Listen up! We all know exercise is important for our health, energy level, mood and peace of mind. But what you eat after your workout is important, too. When you hit the gym or the running trail you're about to start using up your body's store of glycogen—the fuel your muscles use as energy.
After a workout, you need to replace that fuel with the food you take in. And for anyone who's ever had a hard workout, your body tells you as much by giving you hunger pains, begging for more fuel. Unfortunately, it can't tell you exactly what to eat. A lot of us make the mistake of grabbing whatever's close at hand or giving into our cravings for bad fats, salts and sugar, thinking it's okay since we just burned a few calories. It's not! Your body needs lean protein to repair muscle damage, along with complex carbs and water to replenish your electrolytes. Pay attention below to learn about the foods you should avoid, and what to eat instead, when the post-workout hunger hits.
Does this sound completely counterintuitive? Of course it does. But raw veggies alone don't have enough calories, carbs, good fats or protein to help satisfy what your body needs after exercise. Fit Day recommends thinking about pairing protein and carbs together in one sitting. For a morning workout, they say eggs and toast (we suggest whole wheat toast) is a good combo. In the evening cottage cheese and a peanut butter sandwich is a good go-to.
Energy Bars Loaded with Sugar
Not all energy bars are created equal. Some of them have way more sugar than you need after a workout. But many of us have been fooled into thinking the bar is a fast, easy way to get energy. Julie Mayer at iVillage says to skip them altogether. Choose low-fat yogurt and fruit or one serving of nut butter spread on whole grain bread. If you have to have the bar, look for one that's got five grams of protein and 25 to 40 grams of carbs. Sugar content should be less than 15 grams per serving.
Cottage cheese or low-fat mozzarella cheese is great after workout for a snack. Pair them with healthy carbs and you'll be doing your body good. But you should avoid fake cheeses of any kind and American cheese. Cheddar can also be highly processed, so choose your cheese wisely.
Sugary Sodas and Sports Drinks
It's true that sports drinks help replenish electrolytes and also contain sugar to give you energy after high-intense activity that involves a lot of dripping sweat (perhaps this is why they're marketed mostly to men). But when you've glowed during your workout instead of dripped, and when you've jogged or walked instead of run a half-marathon, you're better off drinking water. And soft drinks, diet or otherwise, are a no-no.
Some cereals are loaded with sugar, even those that claim they're healthy. So you've got to look at the ingredient list and the nutritional label. If you want that satisfying crunch, low-sugar granola with fruit and nuts or no-sugar added trail mix are good options. Feel free to pour unsweetened almond milk over it and eat it with a spoon. A couple of cereals that have no sugar added are also okay to eat: Grape-Nuts and shredded wheat.
Surely a slice of lunch meat can't hurt right? If you have to retrieve it from a plastic bag or box, it's not good. Most lunch meats from the store are highly processed with added salt and chemicals. Salami and bologna have a lot of added fat, too. A fresh piece of turkey on whole grain bread is a good idea.
Burgers and Fries
You're thinking, duh, obviously. Red meat can be hard to digest, which makes your recovery take longer than it should and weighs you down, depleting your energy. It's also high in saturated fats. White potatoes fried in oil and salt are not the kind of carbs you need, and salt strips your body of highly needed hydration. Along this same line of thinking, forget about pizza and other foods you know are loaded down with unwanted grease and saturated fats. Try chicken breast and salmon with steamed vegetables if you're looking for a healthy meal after you workout instead of just a snack.
This may sound obvious, but when your belly is aching for food after a workout, the first thing you'll want to turn to is your base cravings for sugar, salt and fat. You must be strong and resist the urge to nosh on candies and milk chocolate; they have no nutritional value and no other ingredients that will help you gain back your energy or repair your muscles healthfully. Dark chocolate, however, can help you recover from a workout with its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Just don't go crazy. Stick to one serving at a time.