The good news: Most of us don’t need to worry about eating immediately after a workout, especially if our goal is to maintain a healthy weight, or to lose weight. However, certain fitness goals like muscle or weight gain require quick refueling to help recover faster and prevent the loss of muscle mass. If you’re not sure if a post-workout snack makes sense for you, read on to learn more.
Who doesn’t need a post-workout snack?
For healthy individuals who exercise regularly, overall calorie intake and the quality of the food choices you’re making throughout the day have a greater impact on achieving your wellness goals than reaching for a bar or shake right after a sweat session. This is because the food consumed in the time before a workout can impact blood sugar levels and keep them stable both during and after a workout, making a post-workout snack less important.
If you eat a healthy meal 2 to 4 hours before working out and a healthy snack or meal 1 to 2 hours after a workout, you’re probably meeting your nutritional needs. So, unless you have specific fitness goals like muscle gain or growth, don’t stress too much about what to eat after a workout and start focusing on your daily meal plan and the nutrients in each meal instead.
When a post workout snack makes sense
If your last meal was a few hours (more than 4) before working out, or if you exercised in the morning before having breakfast, eating quickly after working out becomes more important. The same goes for someone doing a very intense workout (heavy weight lifting) or someone doing intense endurance training for more than one hour.
When we work out intensely, the muscles in our bodies use stored glycogen for fuel. Glycogen is a substance deposited in muscles and tissues as a store of carbohydrates. As the muscles use glycogen stores for exercise, the muscles become partially depleted of glycogen. In addition to depleted glycogen, some of the proteins in the muscles are broken down and damaged. (But, not damaged in a bad way! That “damage” is what leads to muscle growth).
Eating immediately after an intense workout helps the body:
- Replenish the glycogen stores
- Increase muscle size and/or muscle quality
- Repair any muscle tissue damage caused by the workout
- Limit muscle soreness
- Improve immune function
It’s on you to determine if your workout was intense enough to warrant appropriate fuel afterwards. If you do need to eat after a workout, learn what to eat and when with Coach Jennifer’s tips.