Many people do not eat after exercise because they might not be hungry or don’t have time, but nourishing the body with nutrients post-exercise is a good habit to practice. Studies have show that the 60 minutes following exercise is the optimal time to eat carbohydrate-rich foods and drinks. It is the “Golden Hour” if you will, when the muscles absorb the most nutrients and when glycogen, an energy reserve in your muscles, is replaced most efficiently.The carbs replenish the used-up energy that is normally stored as glycogen in muscle and in the liver. Protein is also important in post-exercise nutrition because it aids in recovery to build back the muscles that were fatigued during exercise and also glycogen replacement.
The abundance of your post-exercise meal should be carbohydrates, with some protein (to keep it simple about 10% protein, 90% carbs – think bagel with peanut butter). Another thing to keep in mind is that the sooner you eat, the better; the benefit will be greater if you get the foods within 30 minutes post-exercise. The most important thing to remember post-exercise is fluids— especially during extended workouts, extreme heat, cold, or high altitude. Another tip is to avoid high-fat foods such as nuts and avocado in the 2hr window post-exercise because they slow digestion.
Here is the good news: For all of you who feel guilty about eating carbs, especially those with a high glycemic index, you have the Golden Hour to go for it. High glycemic foods are actually preferred by some for post-exercise because they are more rapidly absorbed and more quickly release blood sugar into the bloodstream. They are more effective at replenishing energy stores than low glycemic foods, which are broken down more slowly and take longer to release sugar into the bloodstream. I advise my clients to eat low glycemic foods in general day to day life, especially if weight loss is one of their goals. So the white rice, white bread, russet potatoes, dried fruit, and other high glycemic foods are OK and actually good to eat after a workout to refuel the body– just remember the key here: moderation. Lower-glycemic foods are a better choice for overall heart health, so the goal is to find a balance.
BUT, say you have been craving sugar or a white bread sandwich (but know you are supposed to eat whole grain blah blah). After your workout class, the gym, P90X at home, whatever– eat the refined sugar high-carb treat that you feel like you “shouldn’t” eat normally. Keep in mind that you don’t need to be post-exercise to treat yourself or have high glycemic foods, but it is something to be aware of and also remind you to keep your body replenished after workouts.