What Should You Eat After Exercise?

We often hear that we need to refuel after exercise with foods ranging from energy bars to chocolate milk. Find out why that advice may do more harm than good for most of us


People in the fitness industry often tell us that we need to eat after working out to help our bodies recover. And there’s no shortage of suggested foods, everything from energy bars to chocolate milk. In most cases, though, refueling after exercise simply puts extra gas in our tanks that we don’t need.

People doing very vigorous exercise for more than an hour, especially in the heat, may need to replace lost minerals known as electrolytes afterward.

And athletes who train several times a day may benefit from eating carbohydrates after each session to replenish glycogen, which our bodies use for energy.

But the types of exercise that most of us do, whether walking, weight lifting, or yoga, don’t deplete electrolytes or glycogen enough to require refueling.

As for protein, the conventional wisdom is that you need to eat it within an hour after weight training to build muscle. But research suggests that the timing may be less important than the total amount you get throughout the day. Most people require half a gram per pound per day, which makes it easy to calculate. Just divide your weight in half. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you’d need roughly 75 grams of protein over the entire course of a day.

If protein bars, powders, or shakes make it easier to get the recommended amount, that’s fine. But they’re by no means essential. You can typically get enough protein through a normal diet of poultry, fish, dairy products and plant foods.

Always rehydrate with water after exercise, and if you’re hungry, go for a light snack containing protein and carbohydrates, such as plain yogurt or fruit and nuts.

Keep in mind, though, that consuming extra calories after your workout, without cutting them elsewhere, can undermine your efforts if you’re trying to lose weight. As tempting as it may be, avoid rewarding yourself with that post-workout pizza or piece of cake. Unfortunately, the number of calories you get from such foods can easily exceed what you burn through exercise.

For the truth about more fitness-related claims, check out my book, fitter faster. You’ll also learn how to slash your workout time and get even better results.

Helping you be a healthy skeptic, I’m Robert Davis.

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