What Should You Eat After a Workout? Depends On What You Did at the Gym!

August 5, 2015

You’re laying in savasana after a particularly challenging hot yoga class, decompressing after 90 minutes of hard, sweaty work when without notice your stomach rumbles loudly enough to knock the namaste out of the yogi next to you. Whoa, time to refuel!

But before you chug a protein shake or head home to make a pasta dinner, take a second to consider your post-workout nutrition. Depending on the type of workout you’ve completed, your body will have different dietary needs.

After a yoga or Pilates class

Yoga and Pilates can both be challenging, but both workouts are usually sustained for longer periods of time at a lower level of effort. While you’re definitely going to see benefits and gains in flexibility and bodily awareness—and possibly build more lean muscle mass—you won’t get your heart rate up high enough for this work to be considered aerobic exercise. And unless your class is heated, you also won’t be losing much in terms minerals and fluids through sweat. If your class is 90 minutes or under, you don’t need to worry about replenishing protein, carbs, and calories directly after your classes.

If you’re super hungry, you can eat a normal meal, but if you don’t feel hungry, don’t stress about getting food in your system. You’re not hindering your performance and recovery if you don’t eat until your next regular meal.

Post sweaty spin class

You kicked butt in your SoulCycle class, and you’re totally starving when your flywheel comes to a stop. After a 45-minute ride, you busted a serious move and probably got your heart rate pumping pretty high into the aerobic range. Getting the most benefits from your cardio comes down to two things: not eating too many carbs before your workout, and rehydrating after your sweat session. Studies show that if you take your spin class in a low-carb or fasted state, you’re more likely to burn fat and see the cardiovascular benefits of aerobic work.

Eat a light snack of complex carbs and a little protein after class to keep your insulin levels even, and make sure you drink enough water and electrolytes to replace everything you sweat out. Recover and rehydrate with a beverage that’s electrolyte and mineral dense (like coconut water). Paleo-friendly crackers with veggies and a little cheese, or even a few pieces of sushi can keep you energized until your next meal. Just don’t over estimate how many calories you can eat because you worked out—you’ll replenish your caloric intake at your next regularly scheduled meal.

When you’re done with a hard Crossfit workout

After resistance and weight training exercise, your body needs to rebuild the muscle you’ve challenged in your training session with amino acids and proteins. Depending on who you talk to, there’s an ideal “nutrition window” that occurs 20 minutes, 90 minutes, or 2 hours after your workout.

Many believe that you must eat during this block of time or else your muscles will basically disintegrate and you’ll never get those “gains” that you want… Fortunately, research says that the mythical “nutrition window” post-workout doesn’t really exist, so your biceps are safe from disintegration. While it doesn’t hurt to eat directly after your workout, there are no adverse effects to waiting to eat a few hours after your session if you’re only training once a day.

Chow down on something high in protein after you lift heavy. Research favors whey protein for its ability to increase the actual strength of your muscles as well as build bigger muscles. Yup, whey protein makes you buff! Add coconut oil, nut butter, and collagen to your whey protein drink for a hearty protein-packed smoothie that will keep you fuller for longer.

The only times it’s totally necessary for you to refuel immediately after a workout is if exercised in a fasted state—meaning you haven’t ingested any calories prior to your training session—or if you’re working out more than once a day. In those cases, a meal of complex carbohydrates and protein is the best to keep your energy levels up and repair your tissues. One of our faves? This rice and fish dish that tastes insanely good but is super easy to make.

When in doubt, listen to your body. Eat when you’re hungry and drink plenty of water, but don’t worry that you’re undoing your hard work if you can’t get to a protein shake right after the gym.

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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