Healthy Foods and Snacks to Eat After Exercise

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You’ve done the hard work; you’ve been to the gym or completed that run, and now you’re hungry. You want to eat the right thing to ensure you get the maximum benefit from your workout. What will you choose? Here we take a look at the best foods to eat after exercise to help you recover and replenish your energy levels. 

Most people know that they need to drink plenty of fluids after exercise, but not so many know what is the best thing for them to eat. They might even avoid food because they don’t want to undo any good that they have done. Others invest in expensive sports drinks, shakes, gels and supplements in an attempt to get the maximum benefit from their workout. We’ll tell you why this isn’t necessarily the right thing to do. We’ll take a closer look at what you should eat and why, answer some familiar questions, and dispel some common myths. We’ll also give you some suggestions for delicious, post-workout snacks and meals.

Recovery Nutrition Goals

Sports Dieticians Australia recommends that you think about what you eat after exercise in terms of recovery nutrition goals. Your recovery nutrition goals should be to consume food and drink that will:

•          Help you refuel and rehydrate your body.

•          Support your immune function.

•          Boost adaptation from the training session.

•          Promote muscle repair and growth.

Eating the Wrong Foods After Exercise

If you get recovery nutrition wrong, you are more likely to feel tired and sore, you won’t get the maximum benefits from your training session, and your performance at your next session won’t be as good. You're also more likely to feel lethargic at work and you won't present the best version of yourself. We think you'll agree, this is certainly worth some thought.  

So what should you eat? 

To answer this question, it helps to know a bit about how our bodies make the energy we need for our workout sessions. This will help you to understand how you can have the best chance of maximising your fitness goals, depending on whether you want to lose weight, build muscle mass, or simply become fitter and healthier.

How Your Body Makes Energy 

The first way your body gets the fuel it needs is from carbohydrates, which you receive from the food you eat. In simple terms, your body breaks down carbohydrates and converts them into smaller simple sugars that can be absorbed, one of which is glucose. Glucose is used to produce energy. It is also stored in the form of glycogen, mostly in the liver and muscles. During intense exercise, when your body has used up all the carbohydrates - and needs to make more energy - your body converts these glycogen stores into glucose. 

When Carbohydrate Stores Run Out

If your glycogen stores become depleted or run out, you can experience something called hypoglycaemia. This can cause some unpleasant symptoms, such as extreme fatigue, collapse, dizziness and hallucinations. 

Eating small, healthy snacks while you workout, like the ones in our Snack Boxes, can help you to replenish your glycogen stores with the carbohydrates you need for more fuel. Our snacks are pocket-size so you can easily take them with you wherever you go, whether you’re cycling the Great Ocean Road, running the Sydney marathon, or sweating it out on the treadmill at the local gym. 

When there are no more carbohydrates to make energy, your body switches to metabolism of fatty acids from your body’s fat stores. Fatty acids are taken and broken down for energy, or converted to ketone bodies within the liver. 

Your Body's Last Resort 

Finally, when there is no other option, your body breaks down the amino acids in proteins to get the energy it needs. Typically, this only happens when you’re in starvation mode. Proteins perform several important functions in the body, so breaking them down can cause damage to muscle tissues and several systems to fail. This is your body’s last resort. 

What to Eat and Drink After a Workout

Sports Drinks

As well as providing plenty of fluids to help you rehydrate, particularly if you’ve been sweating, certain drinks can help you to get the nutrients you need to recover after exercise. We’re talking about specialised sports drinks, especially those that contain carbohydrates to help you refuel, and electrolytes to help you retain fluids more effectively. You can also get specialised protein powders and recovery shakes to pop in your sports bag.

You might want to try sports drinks if you’re really serious about your training, your training sessions are just hours apart from one another, or if your training involves remote locations where food and drink aren’t easily accessible. 

However, such sports drinks might not be necessary. The good news is that experts say you should be able to get all the nutrients you need from your regular diet, especially if you are exercising once a day or a couple of times a week. This should certainly be the case if you are supplementing your diet with healthy snacks like the Organic Figs, Organic Apricots, Snack Bars, Vegetable Chips and East Bali Cashews in our Snack Boxes. 

Carbohydrates 

It’s a good idea to eat carbohydrate-rich foods soon after training so your body can replace the energy stores it has used up during your work-out. The body is most effective at replacing carbohydrates and promoting muscle repair and growth up to 90 minutes after exercise; however this will continue to occur for up to 24 hours, so get those carbohydrates into your body.

What to eat: Carbohydrates come from foods such as bread, cereal, potatoes, fruits and sugar-containing foods or drinks. 

Our Tip: There’s 12.3 g of carbohydrate in Cobs natural Popcorn! 

Protein 

You need sufficient protein and calories to build muscle cells, repair muscle damage that occurs during exercise, and to help with recovery so your body is prepared for your next training session. Sports Dieticians Australia recommends that you eat up to about 25 g of high-quality proteinsoon after exercise, and every three to four hours after. 

•          A handful of almonds contains around 6 g of protein. 

•          Egg whites naturally contain very high levels of protein.

•          Eggs contain 11 different vitamins and minerals including iron and vitamins A, B, and E. 

What to eat: Protein is present in meat, fish, eggs, nuts, legumes, wholegrain and dairy products.

Our Tip: We include Googys Protein Bars in our Snack Boxes which are made with three egg whites, seven almonds and other delicious, healthy ingredients! 

Vitamins and Minerals 

Frequent and high-intensity exercise can suppress the immune system. That means you’ll need a well-balanced and varied diet to get all the vitamins and minerals you need to boost your immune system. That way, you’ll be more likely to fight off any bugs or infections that might be lurking in the office. 

What to Eat: As well as carbohydrate-rich foods and plenty of protein, you’ll need lots of fresh fruit and green, leafy vegetables to get all the nutrition you need.

Almonds include Vitamin E, an antioxidant associated with protecting the immune system. They’re also great for stemming those hunger pangs, and they’re high in protein and fibre. 

Our Tip: You’ll find Shelby’s Dipped and Dusted Almonds in our Snack Boxes!

How Long Should You Wait After Exercise Before You Eat?

It’s up to you how long you wait before eating after your exercise session. It will all depend on what kind of activity you’ve done, where you are when you finish, and what sits well on your stomach after strenuous exercise. These factors will differ from person to person. 

Some people benefit from splitting their recovery into two parts. They eat a small snack straight after their exercise session to kick-start the recovery process, and then they eat their main meal a bit later on to help them complete their recovery goals.

What Are the Best Foods to Eat?

There is no single best option for what to eat after exercise, and everyone will have their own favourites and preferences. Here are some suggestions for you to try: 

•          Trail mix with dried fruits and nuts 

•          Stir fry with tofu, seafood or lean meat

•          Whole grain pancakes with blueberries and low sugar syrup

•          Steak and sweet potatoes 

•          Quinoa and grilled fish 

•          Coconut yoghurt with almonds and fruit 

•          Poached eggs and smoked salmon on toast 

•          Chicken and salad roll 

•          Tuna on wholemeal bread 

•          Vegetables and brown rice 

•          Hummus and multigrain crackers 

•          Banana, fresh fruit, salad, vegetables

•          Blend up a smoothie made with soya milk, oats and banana for a delicious treat that’s high in protein and carbohydrates

•          Beef, chicken, turkey or salmon jerky

After exercise, what you eat will impact your body’s recovery and how well you perform the next time you workout. You don’t need sports supplements, but you do need to consume:

•          Food or drink that is rich in carbohydrates so your body can replenish your muscle fuel stores. 

•          Food that contains some lean protein to promote muscle repair.

•          Plenty of fluids or drinks with electrolytes to help you rehydrate.

Finally, don’t be tempted to skip meals. An empty stomach means you’re not doing what you can to help your muscles recover, and are not restocking your stores of glycogen. You won't feel at your best and you might even find that you feel so hungry later that you end up reaching for the easiest option: junk food.

Eating and drinking the right things will satisfy your hunger so you don’t make the wrong food choices out of desperation. This will also help you recover and become stronger, as well as replenishing your energy levels. That means you can get on with having a more productive day in the office, something which makes sure that everyone is happy: your boss, your colleagues, and, of course, you. 

Conor Reynolds