When should I eat after working out?

Half of fitness is diet, it doesn't matter if you're pounding a 10k run every day, if you stop for a McDonald's halfway through, there's no point to it. Not only is what you eat important, but also when you eat it.

It should be noted that in this post we're focusing on when to eat after your workout, not before it. We have a helpful article about eating before workouts here.

The majority of scientists agree that the most important thing is eating after a workout, as your muscles need nutrients to be able to replenish themselves, especially protein and carbs.

So when should you eat?

Well the answer lies in what type of workout you did. There's a difference between the requirements of your diet brought on by yoga, and those brought on by heavy weightlifting.

If you've done a light workout, and a good way of gauging if you have is to ask yourself if you could do it all again in half an hour, then you can take up to 2 hours before you need to eat as your body's metabolism isn't quite so boosted.

Heavier workouts, however, that is to say, ones that leave your muscles sore or your heart racing, have different requirements. For a more strenuous workout eat IMMEDIATELY after. That cannot be stressed enough. You will want to at least eat within 30 minutes of your workout ending. If you're heading back from the gym, let's say, and you're driving, or you have some event you have to go to that means you can't eat, then drink a protein shake.

As for what you eat after a workout, try sticking to high protein and carbs in your meal. It's a misconception that fat interferes with your workout recovery, it doesn't. A study from 1998 showed that it is not fat intake that affects post workout recovery. Instead it is a combination of carbohydrate intake, protein intake and total carbohydrate intake that affects it. What matters are the carbs, calories and protein level in your post-exercise meal. As long as you've got enough, you'll be fine.

Two key things to remember, however, are that the carbohydrates you eat should not be simple carbs, that is to say essentially sugars, but instead should be complex carbohydrates like those from vegetables or wholegrain bread. The second thing to keep in mind is that, if you are looking to lose weight from your workouts, then you'll want to keep the fat content of your post workout meal low, since it won't contribute to recovery, only add calories.

In conclusion, how long you can afford to wait after a workout to eat depends on the intensity of the workout, and the content of the post workout meal isn't a big deal if you got only some light exercise compared to a gruelling one hour weights session. As long as you eat within half an hour after a workout, and keep the carb and protein levels high, there's no problem at all.

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