Now that you know how important it is to properly fuel your body before you exercise (yes, even if you're trying to lose weight, you do need to eat a snack), let's talk about what to eat après exercise.
"When you exercise, you've created little, tiny tears in the muscles," says Sarah Maughan, registered holistic nutritionist at Totum Life Science in Toronto (she's who I spoke to about pre-workout meals). "And those tears are good -- it's the body's way of building muscle and strengthening."
But, to help repair those muscles, Maughan says our body needs protein. "If you go a long period of time without feeding your body after physical activity, the body will start to eat away at muscle to feed itself and you'll have a smaller ratio of muscle to fat." Which essentially means -- if you skip a post-workout snack -- you're essentially eating away at those muscles you're working so hard to develop.
There are some very clear symptoms you may experience if you don't replenish your body with protein after the gym, too.
You may feel lethargic the rest of the day and your muscles may feel more sore given they haven't repaired properly. "The next day or even the day after, your muscles may feel weaker than usual," she adds.
How can you ensure you don't get to that state? "Within 30 minutes of completing your workout, have a snack with some protein," says Maughan. It's also a good idea to replenish your carb stores (the best time to have them is surrounding a workout).
If it's time for a full meal, opt for some fish with whole-grain brown rice and grilled veggies on the side (a bean salad would work, too). If it's not mealtime, a smoothie with protein powder, a handful of trail mix or a protein bar are all great snacks.
You may have heard recently chocolate milk is a good post-workout choice. A study published earlier this year in International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found the high carb and high protein content of chocolate milk makes it an ideal recovery drink for endurance sports (runners, swimmers, cyclists, etc.). The research showed, in a group of nine cyclists, those who drank chocolate milk during a break performed as good or better than those who drank one of two types of sports drinks.
So, essentially, what you're aiming for after a workout is to nibble on approximately 20 to 25 grams of protein -- and a healthy dose of carbs. Remember that, and your body will feel top-notch après exercise.
Karen Kwan is a health and lifestyle freelance writer based in Toronto. She also has a blog, Health & Swellness.