How to Eat After a Workout

Two Parts:Calculating Your Daily Calorie IntakePlanning Your Meals

Before working out, your body needs fuel, mainly carbohydrates, for energy. Since exercising weakens muscle and puts extra stress on bones, your body needs fuel after a workout, too, in order to replenish and repair. Getting the proper nutrition after working out will help lessen stress injuries, restore energy, and leave you in a peak state for physical performance.[1] Once you understand what to eat and when to eat it to maximize the benefits of your workout, you can implement a plan that will work for you.

Part 1
Calculating Your Daily Calorie Intake

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    Find your basic metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR is what you use to calculate your calorie intake. It is based on your age, height, weight, and gender. Most calorie calculators use the Harris-Benedict equation to determine how many calories you should be eating every day.[2]
    • If you are a man, your BMR is equal to: 65 + (6.2 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)
    • If you’re a woman, your BMR is equal to: 655 + (4.3 x weight in pounds) + (4.3 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
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    Determine how active you are on a weekly basis. Calorie calculators also factor in your level of activity. If you are very active, for example, with hard exercise almost every day of the week, you may need to consume more calories than if you lead a more sedentary lifestyle, where you do little to no activity. The five different levels of activity are:[3]
    • Sedentary: You have a desk job where you sit all day long and do little to no exercise every week.
    • Lightly active: You do light exercise or play sports, one to three days a week.
    • Moderately active: You do moderate exercise or play sports, three to five days a week.
    • Very active: You do hard, intense exercise or play sports, six to seven days a week.
    • Extremely active: You do intense daily exercise or sports twice a day, and have a physical labor job or are doing a training camp for football or another contact sport.
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    Use your BMR and your fitness goals to determine your calorie intake. You can put all of the above information in calorie counting tool that will estimate your required calories per a day, based on your BMR, available here. Once you have your estimated calorie intake, consider how you will reduce or increase your calorie intake per a day based on your fitness goals.[4]
    • If you are trying to lose weight, reduce your estimated calorie intake by 500 per a day. Balance your fitness plan by eating 250 calories less a day and exercising enough to burn 250 calories. For example, walking or running 2.5 miles a day. When planning your meals, cut back on portion sizes to reduce the amount of calories you consume by 250.
    • If you are trying to gain weight, eat 500 calories more per day and limit your cardio exercises. Focus on strength training, involving free weights, to add lean muscle mass. You should also be eating at least 1 gram per pound of body weight of protein and get plenty of rest to recover after your workouts.
    • Always start by reducing or increasing your calorie intake a little at a time, no more than 500 calories either way. This will prevent your body from going into shock and ensure you are consuming enough calories to allow your body to function.[5]

Part 2
Planning Your Meals

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    Create a workout diet based on your calorie intake. Use your estimated BMR, minus or plus 500 calories based on your fitness goals, to create meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as post workout meals. Always eat at least three meals a day, and balance out the protein, vegetables, and healthy fats on your plate to maintain a healthy diet.
    • For example, you might be a 28 year old female who weighs 140 pounds and is very active. You do intense exercise seven days a week, with one hour at the gym every other day and recreational soccer two days a week. Your estimated calorie intake, based on your BMR, is around 2,050 a day. If you are looking to lose weight, you would remove 500 calories by subtracting 250 calories from your daily intake and burning 250 more calories during your exercise routine. You would now consume 1,800 calories a day and add more exercise to your existing routine to burn 250 extra calories.
    • You could break down your 1,800 calories a day further into each meal, so 600 per a meal (600 x 3) or you could allot more calories for lunch and dinner and less calories for breakfast (500 for breakfast, 650 for lunch or your post-workout meal, and 650 for dinner).
    • Be sure that you are not putting too many calories after your workout. You need to make sure that you have enough calories left for the rest of your day.
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    Make post-workout meals that are high in protein and carbohydrates. You should eat a meal that balances protein and carbohydrates within two hours of your workout. If you are training as an athlete and are doing a weight training workout, you should eat a meal high in nutrient rich carbs right after you have finished your workout. Your body is in recovery mode after a workout and this will help your body recover and will improve your muscle strength. Possible post workout meals include:[6][7]
    • Greek yogurt with fruit like blueberries or raspberries: This meal is full of protein and low on calories, so you won’t risk going over your daily calorie intake per a day.
    • A peanut butter and banana sandwich: This easy meal is great for recovering after a workout, as it’s packed with carbs and is easy to digest.
    • Tuna and crackers: A handful of whole grain crackers with a can of yellowfin tuna makes a great protein-rich post-workout meal that only 300 calories.
    • Low-fat chocolate milk and crackers: Chocolate milk is a great source of protein and carbs, as well as water to replace the fluids you lost during your workout, plus calcium, and sugar. These ingredients will help you recover quickly from your workout. The crackers will give your body some extra carbs that are not too heavy or fattening and will help your body digest the nutrients from the chocolate milk.
    • Grilled chicken with brown rice or vegetables: This is a nutrient-rich meal that contains protein and carbohydrates, but won’t make you feel bloated. The vegetables are also good for your overall health and are good sides to protein-rich grilled chicken.
    • Whole wheat pasta with meatballs: This is another high-protein meal that won’t lead to indigestion or bloating. Make the meatballs with lean beef or chicken to keep the protein from getting too fatty.
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    Avoid foods high in fats and empty calories. Skip the french fries, cheeseburgers, chili-dogs, and pizza, as they will add fat to your body’s fat stores and slow down your digestion.[8] While fats do sustain energy, they are less effective when eaten before and after workouts. This is due to the fact that they tend to be high calorie and prevent the body from tapping into it's own fat stores for energy.
    • You should also skip salty snacks like pretzels and chips, as they can lower your levels of potassium. Potassium is an electrolyte and and essential mineral that helps your cells function. Don’t deplete your potassium levels with salty snacks, as your body needs to try to replenish as many electrolytes as possible post-workout.
    • Though it may seem like raw vegetables are good for post workout recovery, they are lacking in enough nutrients to give you the protein and carbs you need. If you have raw veggies, eat them with a protein source like hummus, a yogurt dip, or a nut butter.
    • Milk chocolate bars and pastries should also be avoided, as they are full of empty calories that will not speed up your body’s recovery. You may feel a burst of energy after eating a milk chocolate bar, but this will soon fade and your body will crave more substantial sources of protein.
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    Use supplements after a bodybuilding workout. Supplements such as creatine can help your body recover from an intense body building workout, especially if you are doing high-intensity weight training.[9] These supplements (about 5 grams) can be dissolved into water and consumed right after your workout.[10]
    • Studies have shown that consuming creatine after your workout can increase your muscle strength and reduce the fat stores in your body.
    • Protein shakes are a great way to consume a high amount of protein quickly after a workout.
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    Drink water instead of sports drinks. Drinking lots of water post-workout will help your body recover and stay hydrated. You should only have sports drinks if your workout required you to sweat out a lot of electrolytes or you are doing intense training for more than 60 minutes. Water, coupled with a banana for potassium, is the best option for quenching your thirst and replenishing the electrolytes you released through your sweat.[11]
    • Downing sugary fruit drinks or soda after a workout can slow down your metabolism and cause you to gain weight, not lose it.
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    Continue with your workout diet for the rest of the day. Maintain your estimated calorie intake by following your workout meal plan. Try to have a post-workout meal that fits within your calorie breakdown for the day. Avoid overeating after working out or indulging in cheat foods, as this can lead to poor recovery, low energy, and possible weight gain.

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