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Eating after exercise

You’ve just had a great workout and you’re feeling fit. Maybe you did a long power-walk through the park or an intense full-body weight session at the gym. What’s on your mind?

  • “Oh, boy, now I can eat! Super-size it, please!”
  • “No food for me. I don’t want to replace the calories I just lost!”
  • “Food? I couldn’t eat a thing.”

Fact is, you’ve taxed your muscles, so you need to refuel—that’s true even if your goal is to shed some body fat. But you don’t need to overindulge. So what do you eat? A bagel? A banana?

Sports nutritionists say your best bet is to have a small meal or snack that combines carbohydrates and protein within a half-hour of exercising. Carbohydrates, found in foods like fruit, bread or cereal, help replace glycogen (stored carbohydrate that’s used for energy during your workout) in your muscles and liver so the next time you exercise you won’t feel drained. (Very-low–carbohydrate diets, experts advise, impair your body’s ability to replace glycogen.) Protein provides amino acids that help repair and build your muscles. If you perform regular, intense exercise, your protein needs may be higher than someone who is sedentary.

Skip the junk food—it doesn’t provide the nutrients that benefit your body. If you exercise away from home, pack portable snacks in your gym bag or stash them in your car to enjoy soon after your workout. If you’re normally not hungry after exercising, select something light that will appeal to your tastebuds. Top if off later with a healthy meal. Try sipping on juices, smoothies or shakes if you’re hot and sweaty, or if you’re outdoors and it’s cold, soup may be more pleasing.

These easy refueling options offer quality nutrition to help your body recover and keep your immune system strong:

  • yogurt and fruit, separately or blended into a smoothie
  • a sandwich with lean meat or tuna, plus milk
  • a bagel with cheese or lean meat
  • cereal with milk
  • soup and crackers
  • an energy or cereal bar
  • a meal replacement product (add fruit if you like) or a milk shake

Rehydrate after your workout. For each pound you sweat off during exercise, nutritionists recommend drinking two-and-a-half cups of water. Pay attention to your energy levels throughout the day and adjust your daily food intake if necessary. Even the healthiest post-workout meal can’t make up for inadequate nutrition during the rest of the day.