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What to Eat and Drink After Exercise

By Shelley Frost

A session of sweating it out at the gym leaves most people hungry and thirsty. Even if you don't feel hunger, a post-workout snack and beverage are key to restoring your body's energy and nutrients. Avoid a high-fat, empty-calorie snack that can negate all of the hard work you just did. Instead, opt for a nutritious post-workout food with a hydrating beverage.

Why Post Exercise Nutrition is Important

The body needs water and glycogen levels restored after an exercise session. Your post-meal snack or meal helps replenish those levels. Protein and carbohydrates create a post-workout combination that aids in the body's recovery. Muscles that are hydrated and nourished with carbohydrates and proteins are better able to recover, according to a report from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Dietetic Association, published in the March 2009 issue of "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise." This might help your energy levels and prepare your body for exercise the next day.

Time Frame for Post-Workout Eating

Fluid intake should occur during and immediately after the workout. This keeps your hydration levels up throughout the workout. The post-workout snack or meal should take place shortly after you complete your exercise. The ACSM and ADA recommend eating a carbohydrate snack 30 minutes after your workout, the amount of which should be 0.5 to 0.7 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. You then should have a meal within the first two hours after your workout for the most effective recovery. Waiting too long to eat could make the recovery process take longer.

Post-Workout Snack Ideas

A snack or meal that combines carbohydrates and protein hits both primary food sources recommended after a workout. Whole grain crackers provide a carbohydrate-filled snack. Pair the crackers with nut butter, turkey, tuna or cheese for protein. A fruit smoothie with yogurt is another source of protein and carbohydrates. Blend together frozen fruit, yogurt and a small amount of sweetener until the ingredients are smooth. You can also use a protein shake as the base with fruits added in for more flavor. If you don't like to drink your fruit, mix in chunks of fresh fruit with a bowl of yogurt. "Fitness" magazine recommends a peanut butter and banana combination. Spread the peanut butter directly on the banana or smooth it onto a whole wheat bagel and top with banana slices.

Post-Workout Beverages

Water is an effective way to replace the fluids lost during your workout. Water quenches your thirst without feeling thick or sugary. recommends at least 1/2 cup of water during your workout for every 15 minutes that you exercise. Follow up your exercise routine with more water. Athletes who exercise more intensely or for longer periods might prefer a sports drink with electrolytes to hydrate and increase energy levels. Chocolate milk is another post-workout drink option suggested by "Fitness" magazine. The milk contains water to hydrate, plus protein and carbohydrates. Juice also hydrates while adding carbs after your workout.

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