The importance of post-workout refueling

Whole foods like Greek yogurt with berries and honey is a perfect option for a post-workout snack.
Whole foods like Greek yogurt with berries and honey is a perfect option for a post-workout snack. Photo Credit: Applecorps Ltd.

Working out drains you of vitamins and nutrients, and to make the most of your commitment to fitness you need to recover after exercise, some experts say. That means eating.

“The workout ends after the nutrition,” said Amanda Carlson-Phillips, registered dietitian and V.P. of nutrition and research at Athletes’ Performance, a training and nutrition company for elite athletes. “The body needs fuel, and you deplete them [nutrients] as you train.”

Carlson-Phillips recommends a combination of protein and carbohydrates (ideally two parts to one) within 30 minutes of concluding your workout. When you exercise, she explained, you burn more than calories. Your muscles break down and the energy that keeps you going is depleted. To not refuel is to do your body a disservice.

“People say they want to have more energy [after working out],” said Carlson-Phillips. “That comes from replenishing the body after the training session.”

But according to a recent survey conducted by the health and nutrition company Abbott Nutrition/EAS Sports Nutrition, which makes protein and nutrition supplements and educates about fitness and nutrition, many people are not paying attention.

The survey profiled 1,000 people who work out at least three times a week for at least 30 minutes and found that 36% of respondents did not want to ingest any calories after working out, 50% didn’t want carbohydrates and 53% didn’t want protein.

“We found that athletes are overlooking nutrition as part of their training,” said Michelle Zendah, senior manager of public affairs. “Many view post-workout nutrition as negative.”

It’s not only athletes who need nutrients after exercise, said Carlson-Phillips, who is also an adviser for EAS Academy, the nutrition education arm of Abbott.

“It’s important for everybody because it’s an important ritual to get into,” she said. “Regardless of how you work out, your muscles are being broken down.”

While whole foods like Greek yogurt with berries and honey is a perfect option for a post-workout snack, Carlson-Phillips says it can be hard for some to grab such healthy options. People are busy or have to get to work. Protein powders, drinks and bars are a good option, she added. In NYC, gyms from Crunch to Equinox even offer in-house prepared beverages and foods.

And while eating after exercise seems anathema to weight-loss seekers, Carlson-Phillips said that in order to be physically operating at full capacity, which is what’s required to lose weight, the human body needs fuel.

“You can’t get there if you’re not taking care of yourself,” she said. “Nutrition helps you to recover and repair.”