You just had one helluva workout. Go you. Now, what are you gonna do? Buzz some almond butter and bananas in a blender and call it lunch? Hop in the shower, prepare for the daily battle that is your commute and maybe gnaw at a bar while you race to the train? Or prepare your recovery meal with such deliberation that it feels kind of like calculus.
What you eat (or don’t) post-sweat can have a drastic impact on your body and your progress. But nourishing your deserving body after you workout shouldn’t require a second degree. Experts weigh in on the most common post-workout nutrition goofs, and how to fix them.
Post-Workout Nutrition Mistake #1: Overeating
You feel as though you’ve just lost your body weight in sweat. Still, even if you’ve tackled a 20-mile training run, that doesn’t mean you should be downing a week’s worth of calories in one sitting. “Many people overestimate how much energy they’ve expended during their workout, and think they’ve earned a free-for-all meal,” says certified holistic nutritionist Melissa Boufounos. So what does a right-sized post-workout meal look like? Heap half your plate with veggies and add a lean protein, good-quality carb, and a healthy fat (olive oil, avocado, you know the drill). “You may have more carbs in this post-workout meal than your others,” Boufounos says, “but it shouldn’t look drastically different from how you regularly eat.”
Post-Workout Nutrition Mistake #2: Waiting too long to eat it
No matter what other stuff is beating down your back, it can wait until after you’ve refueled. (Hear that, dubiously urgent email from the sales team?) If you’re the kind of person who experiences what Philadelphia-based sports dietitian Kelly Jones refers to as “post-exercise appetite suppression,” you have options. “Have something within an hour of exercise, such as milk or yogurt (or soy versions) to provide carbs to replenish your muscle stores and protein to repair and rebuild muscle cells,” she suggests. “Then, eat a full meal within three hours of the snack.”
Post-Workout Nutrition Mistake #3: Not Including water
Most of us are diligent about gulping water during a workout or we’d never make it through. We’re often total delinquents about rehydrating afterward though. “It’s important to replenish what you sweat out during exertion,” says K.C. Craichy, nutrition expert and founder of Living Fuel. “You’ll get the blood flowing, which will deliver nutrients and oxygen throughout the body.” But how much to swig? Start by drinking eight ounces within 30-minutes of your session, more if you’re inclined.
Related: Are You Getting Enough Electrolytes?
Post-Workout Nutrition Mistake #4: Skipping out on carbs
We assume we need protein, which we know (thanks, middle-school health class) to be essential to muscle repair. And while that’s true, ultimately your post-workout meal serves two purposes: refueling what you just burnt off and preparing you for your next workout. “Carbohydrates are the primary fuel that keeps your muscles working, so limiting your carb intake can be detrimental to your performance,” says Dr. Dana Ryan, Ph.D., M.A., and director of sports performance and education for Herbalife Nutrition. Aim for a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein and you’re golden.
Post-Workout Nutrition Mistake #5: Eating too much fat
“Fat is metabolized slower than protein and carbs in the digestive tract and slows down the overall digestion of food,” says nutrition expert and health coach Deidre Helton. “When you get too much, you counteract the increase in metabolism that happens naturally from exercise.” Adults should aim to get 20 to 30 percent of their total calories from fat, which is 44 to 77 grams of fat daily if you eat 2,000 calories a day, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Since you’re training, you may be consuming a lot more and can inch up accordingly, but if you want to keep your digestive system humming as efficiently as you do (and of course you do), take it easy.