There’s nothing quite like that feeling you get after getting in a good workout. But before you get too settled into that post-workout glow, registered dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield says there’s an important, often-overlooked step that helps ensure your workout was effective.
“All my clients look at me like I’m crazy… when I tell them, ‘Look, after your workouts, you need to make sure you eat something,'” Scritchfield says. “They say, ‘Rebecca, why would I do that? Why would I erase the benefit of the workout?'”
It’s because, she says, that’s when your body needs it most.
“That is when your body is rebuilding and repairing and recovering,” Scritchfield explains. “You actually need to feed your body instead of starve it in order to rebuild that muscle, replenish what was lost and to get your energy back up.”
She adds that not eating after a workout can have a detrimental effect on the mind and body. “When people don’t eat after their workouts, they’re usually going to experience a dip in energy, probably lose some focus and concentration. You’re also going to miss out on the opportunity for those muscles to rebuild and repair and get stronger,” she says. “We need to get carbohydrates back in our bodies, we need to get proteins back and, if we’re sweating, we need to get the fluids back, too.”
The key in this refueling is to eat as soon as possible after working out, or at least within a 60-minute window. “That’s when we see our bodies trying to do the most rebuilding and repairing,” Scritchfield says.
As far as what to eat, Scritchfield points to a balance of carbohydrates and protein as being the ideal combination. Her favorite refueling foods include:
“Chocolate milk is a simple and convenient recovery food because we’ve got the fluids, and we’ve got a good balance of carbohydrates to protein.”
“Smoothies work.” (Not a big fan of the earthy taste? Here’s how to make smoothies taste less “green.”)
Maple Syrup + Milk
“If you don’t like any of those options or just want to try something different, try two tablespoons of 100 percent pure maple syrup with milk (or the dairy product that you consume). That would give you a good ratio as well.”
Dates + Peanut Butter
“Have three or four dates or prunes with peanut butter stuffed inside each one.”
“I love the savory idea of doing whole wheat pita triangles with some hummus and veggies.”
Even if you don’t feel particularly hungry after a workout, Scritchfield encourages you to eat something anyway. Not only will this have a short-term effect on your body’s rebuilding process, but it also has a lasting impact as well.
“It’s actually going to help you reset your regular hunger and fullness cycles,” she says.