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Ask a trainer: The final word on post-exercise meals

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

The best post-workout diet tips

After those grueling boot camp workouts or 10-mile runs, your muscles are depleted and in need of nutrition. But how soon after your sweat should you be refueling and do you need to eat after short, easy bouts of exercise? We reached out to Illinois-based fitness expert Angie Miller, founder of AngieMillerFitness.com, to give us the final word on the best time to eat after exercise and the benefits of a post-workout meal.
Angie Miller
ask a trainer

The best post-workout diet tips

After those grueling boot camp workouts or 10-mile runs, your muscles are depleted and in need of nutrition. But how soon after your sweat should you be refueling and do you need to eat after short, easy bouts of exercise? We reached out to Illinois-based fitness expert Angie Miller, founder of AngieMillerFitness.com, to give us the final word on the best time to eat after exercise and the benefits of a post-workout meal.

Meet the expert:

Angie Miller is a personal trainer and fitness instructor certified through NASM, AFAA, and ACE. She is also a Kettlebell Concepts, Mad Dogg Athletics Spinning, YogaFit, and EFI Sports Medicine Gravity Group Instructor who teaches classes in Elgin and Huntley, Illinois. Miller is also the creator of the highly acclaimed exercise DVD's "Core & Strength Fusion," "Kettlebell Bootcamp," and her most recent release, "Angie Miller's Crave Results". In addition, Miller is one of the fitness pros in the Top Trainers Workout DVD Set, an ACE and AFAA Continuing Education Provider, AFAA Certification Specialist, BOSU Master Trainer, Kettlebell Concepts Senior Instructor, and workshop provider at professional conventions worldwide. She is a fitness dynamo!

Q&A with fitness expert Angie Miller

SheKnows: Before we take a bite out of post-exercise meals, let's talk post-workout hydration. Is water the best choice or should we be reaching for sports drinks?

Angie Miller: Proper fluid balance is essential for athletes as well as recreational exercisers. Dehydration can negatively impact performance and when you don't get enough fluids it can interfere with your body's ability to maintain normal temperature. During most activities, water is adequate in order to prevent dehydration. However, during endurance events or activities greater than 60 minutes, a sports drink may be necessary to enhance performance. The drink should contain carbohydrates to properly fuel the nervous and muscular systems. Specifically for post-workout hydration, research suggests that for every pound of weight lost, drink approximately 16 to 20 ounces of fluid and then drink an additional 16 ounces of liquid with your post-workout meal.

SheKnows: How soon after a workout should we be eating a post-workout meal?

Angie Miller: There is a window of opportunity or "metabolic window," that lasts approximately 60 to 90 minutes immediately following exercise, especially intense training. During this time, the body is most receptive to nutrient uptake, and you have the best chance of reducing muscle damage. This window also allows you to maximize the strength and muscle gains that you gained while working out.

SheKnows: Should the post-exercise meal be solid foods or a liquid meal replacement?

Angie Miller: The moment you cease exercise this window opens, and from that time on the benefits begin to decrease. Because it generally takes approximately 2 to 3 hours to digest solid food, consuming solid food is not a recommended option during this time, as the window is closed by the time the food is digested. Although nutrition bars with the proper carbohydrate, protein and fat ratios can be effectively used before and after exercise, liquid is generally recommended because of how quickly it is absorbed and nutrients are delivered to the muscles.

According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, "Because of the length of time it takes to digest and absorb the nutrients from traditional meals, whole foods… cannot deliver the required nutrients quickly enough to allow maximum results from exercise…" Therefore, fast-digesting, liquid replacement drinks are recommended to help you recover post-exercise, and to ensure muscle and strength gains.

SheKnows: How soon after a hard and/or long workout can we eat solid foods?

Angie Miller: This is important for athletes and competitive exercisers who have rigorous training schedules. When it comes to consuming a post-event or post-exercise meal, one that consists of solid foods, most research supports that you should wait 1.5 to 2 hours after major activity depending on your post-training snack. Some studies show that you should wait approximately 1 hour post-workout if your snack/liquid replacement drink was less than 200 calories, and 1 to 2 hours later if it was more than 200 calories. In addition, research supports that the solid food post-workout meal should be approximately 60% carbohydrate, 20% protein, and 20% fat (carbohydrate should be 3 times higher than protein).

SheKnows: What are the specific benefits of post-exercise meals?

Angie Miller: For most recreational exercisers, post-workout feedings and snacks are not critical, but it can increase the potential benefits you receive from your workout, as well as help you to prevent injury, fight fatigue, and avoid the stress of overtraining.

Most importantly, regardless of the intensity of a workout, a post-exercise snack or replacement drink helps foster the following:

  • Reduces muscle damage
  • Minimizes oxidative stress, stress caused by free radicals that damage cells
  • Stimulate muscle growth and repair
  • Refills and replenishes energy stores
  • Restores and balances body fluids and electrolytes
  • Supports your immune system

SheKnows: What is your bottom line answer when it comes to post-exercise meals?

Angie Miller: While post recovery snacks and meals are important, they are not as significant to recreational exercisers as they are to endurance athletes. I always encourage my clients to remember that there's research, and there's the "ideal," then there's real life. If you don't fuel according the latest research, that's not to say you won't reap rewards and experience positive results. It is suggesting that you get even better results when you fuel properly, as well as improve your performance. My advice is to do what you can do, do the best you can, and try to make health-conscious choices when it comes to diet and exercise, not just post-recovery, but all the time.

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