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Chocolate milkshake included.
Knowing what to eat after a workout can be… confusing.
Whether you’re into running, weight training, yoga, or Pilates – should you opt for a smoothie packed with fruit, seeds, and protein powder, or a plain old bagel? Opt to make your own, or choose pre-packaged, instead? And should you do your own thing, or is it worth copying that chia-seed boosted snack you saw on Instagram?
All good questions – and all ones we have answers to, thanks to two of the UK’s top nutrition experts. We’ve picked the brains of Emily Kier, nutritionist for team Renee McGregor, and Jenna Hope – here, they share their insights into what exactly you need to be eating post-workout to repair your muscles and boost your recovery.
What to eat after a workout: your guide
Before we jump into our guide of what to eat after a workout, first things first: why is it so important to get what you eat pre-and post-sweat session nailed? In short, because if you don’t fuel and recover properly, you’ll not only risk injury and fatigue but potentially disrupt your menstrual cycle phases, too. “What we tend to see a lot of in the Team Renee McGregor clinic is fasted and poorly fuelled workouts, which more often than not, is one of the main causes for irregular periods due to the extra stress on the body causing hormones to drop,” shares Kier.
Not only that, but nailing when to eat will ensure you have enough time to metabolise your food to provide your body with adequate fuel, shares Hope. “The food consumed prior to a workout is pivotal to providing energy to the brain and working muscles and additionally, re-fuelling after your workouts is vital for supporting optimal recovery, ensuring subsequent workouts can be effective,” she explains.
And lastly, because if you time your food wrong, you can end up feeling sick, lightheaded, or even getting stomach cramps – if any of you reading have eaten too close to a workout or not refueled adequately, you’ll know the feeling. “However, meal timings shouldn’t induce stress – it’s important to listen to your body and appetite signals and to find a routine which works for you,” advises the nutritionist.
Post-workout snack ideas:
After a workout, you ideally want to focus on packing in the protein to promote muscle repair and recovery, and the carbohydrates to replenish lost glycogen recommends Hope. “Additionally, micronutrients such as magnesium, zinc, and vitamin C are also essential to aid repair and recovery,” she shares.
Below are some recommendations for easy snack ideas for what to eat after a workout which cover all bases:
1. Date and nut energy balls
2. Scrambled eggs on toast with spinach
3. Hummus and carrot sticks
4. Greek yoghurt with fresh berries, cinnamon and a sprinkling of mixed seeds
5. Half a sweet baked sweet potato with peanut butter drizzle
6. Oatcakes topped with cream cheese or tuna and cucumber
7. Smoked salmon and mushrooms on toast
8. A protein shake or protein oats
9. Chocolate milk
10. Toast with nut butter and maple syrup
11. Dates stuffed with nut butter
12. Pitta and hummus
13. Glass of fruit juice and a handful of nuts
14. Fruit loaf with nut butter
15. Cereal (eg Weetabix) and milk
What are the easiest ways to work out what food works for you post-workout?
Ultimately, know this: everyone is unique and so will respond differently to different foods, share the experts. “It’s important to work out what foods suit you best,” explains Hope.
Kier agrees, adding that it’ll likely take a bit of trial and error. “The main things to look out for are easy-to-digest foods that you like and can be easy to grab afterward,” she recommends.
Look at it this way: there’s no point in having the ‘perfect’ post-workout snack sat in your fridge or cupboard if you aren’t really going to want to eat it post-workout. (Chocolate milk, FTW).
How does food work to fuel workouts and repair?
Another good question. Simply put, food plays an important role in providing the energy to sustain your workout. But how?
Carbohydrate is stored as glycogen in the body and it’s the breakdown of these stores that keeps your body going during endurance sports. Kier uses a car analogy to highlight how important it is to refuel properly: “To use a car analogy, if you have not been properly refueling with carbohydrate after your workouts, you are essentially running on fumes having only put a £5 worth of fuel in your tank,” she shares. “This will mean you have to stop regularly and are at very high risk of running out of fuel – in other words, burning out.”
“If you fuel properly, you’re making sure to fill your tank to the brim, giving you the opportunity to drive around stress-free.”
Not forgetting protein, of course, which plays a key role in the repair and recovery of your muscles, specifically if you’re weight training, so aim to have a carbohydrate and protein-rich snack – like the examples above – post-session.