If i'm being 100% honest, all I really want to eat after a workout is a chocolate croissant... but in an effort to nourish my body and meet my fitness goals, I usually grab a salad of some sort, or maybe a veggie burger, and call it a day. But I still wonder if that's the right, healthy choice—and if I should be curating my meals to what type of exercise I'm doing. Is what my body actually needs after a spin class, or a run, the same as what it needs after Pilates?
I spoke to a few pros to find out exactly what to chow down on post-gym sesh, based on different exercises.
This isn’t something you should freak out over, though. Nutritionist Brooke Alpert tells me most people tend to overthink their snacks, and the best grub options are usually the same for every workout, unless you have a specific goal in mind. "For example, a male looking to bulk up and has a strict workout regime will need to eat more meals a day and incorporate more carbohydrates and proteins than a woman who is looking to maintain her health and regularly attends Pilates and yoga classes,” she says.
Tricia L. Griffin, RD, CSSD at Muscle Milk, also adds that what your bod needs might change based on the type of workout, the timing of the session, and the next time you’re going to workout again.
Spin or Running
"A meal rich in carbohydrates and proteins will help your body recover after a cardio heavy workout, whether you are tapping it back or hitting the pavement,” notes Alpert. Carbs (god love ‘em) are what fuel your bod through a workout, and Alpert says this allows your muscles to store them, along with protein, as energy to recover.
So no, carbs aren’t all that bad, but that’s also not saying that going crazy with pastries post jog is a good idea. "Portioned out brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, fruit, or oatmeal are all great options,” says Alpert. "Along with carbohydrates, I recommended to consume good quality protein of your choosing after exercise. Protein is just as important as carbohydrates, as eating protein after exercise prevents protein breakdown and stimulates synthesis, helping repair and grow your muscles.”
In addition to protein, Griffin adds you should be rehydrating.
Pilates or Barre
The same thing goes after you pulse it out, apparently. "After your class your body’s metabolic rate is at it’s highest, so opt for something substantial such as good quality whole carbohydrates, protein and good monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and omega 3 fats (the avocado/olive oil/smoked salmon kind)," says Alpert.
Need some meal suggestions? Alpert recommends hard boiled eggs on sprouted toast with avocado, or lean meat or fish over brown rice or quinoa.
So the most obvious answer, one you probably already thought to yourself, is protein. Why? Griffin says "your body may need higher levels of protein to help build strength, repair and maintain muscles."
But you shouldn't just have protein on your plate. Alpert notes that fast-digesting carbs are also a good option.
In terms of meals, Alpert suggests lean sirloin steak with steamed sweet potato and broccoli (yum), or chicken breast with rice and stir-fry vegetables.
If you want a quick snack, she opts for cottage cheese or Greek yogurt topped with fruit—strawberries, raspberries, pineapple, or raisins. If you want something even more portable, Grifften suggests something like a MUSCLE MILK Pro Series Protein Shake, which holds 32-40 grams of protein, range in-between 160-200 calories, and has 1g of sugar.
But sometimes knowing what to avoid is easier than sticking to this meal examples. And in that case, Alpert says to stay away from things like saturated fats, sugary foods, and sodium-rich foods, as they won't do your body any favors in recovering.
"While fat in your diet is important, it slows down digestion, which makes it not the best post workout option, as the goal is to rapidly replenish glycogen stores," says Alpert.
I don't know about you, but my Sunday night meal prep just got way easier.