Working out is essential to both getting and staying in shape, but the foods you eat right after exercise also play a crucial role in your fitness. To optimize your exercise recovery and replenish your muscles, nosh on the following post-exercise foods within two hours after you finish your workout. In that two-hour window, your muscles are hungry for fuel and will most efficiently utilize carbohydrates, protein and fats. Optimal exercise recovery means improved workout performance and fitness results.
The best foods to eat after exercise
Cherries and Greek yogurt
Research conducted at the University of Michigan suggests that eating tart cherries before and after exercise can reduce exercise-induced inflammation, due to the fruit’s high level of anthocyanins, which are potent antioxidants that also give cherries their red color. Combine a handful of cherries with a cup of protein- and calcium-packed plain Greek yogurt, and you’ve got yourself one tasty exercise recovery meal.
Low-fat chocolate milk
Got milk? You should soon after exercising. Research published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows that low-fat chocolate milk is beneficial in rehydration, building and maintaining muscle tissue, refueling muscles with glycogen, improving subsequent workouts and replenishing electrolytes lost with sweat. Chocolate milk is also chockfull of vitamins and minerals that can aid in muscle recovery.
Whole grain cereal and milk
Particularly convenient if you are an early morning exerciser, a bowl of 100 percent whole wheat cereal with non-fat milk after you sweat can replenish your muscles’ glycogen stores, according to research presented at an American College and Sport Medicine conference. Whole wheat cereal and milk contain both carbohydrates and protein that your muscles need for post-exercise recovery.
Salmon, sweet potato and spinach
If you exercise right before lunch or dinner, Los Angeles-based diet and fitness expert Cassandra Corum recommends restoring your body with meals that are comprised of “some sort of protein, a complex carbohydrate and fats.” Her favorite substantial post-exercise recovery meal is wild salmon, sweet potato and spinach. She says, “wild salmon for protein and omega-3s, spinach for the tons of vitamins and minerals, and a sweet potato for sustainable carbohydrates.”
Tuna, brown rice and veggies
Another one of Corum’s go-to post-exercise meals is tuna, brown rice and vegetables. “One can of light tuna canned in water provides 42 grams of high-quality protein for less than 200 calories,” she explains. “It also has more than 100 percent of the daily value (DV) for niacin, 29 percent of the DV for vitamin B-6 and 82 percent of the DV for vitamin B-12. Add some brown rice for fiber and carbs, and stock up on the veggies.” Vegetables are an invaluable source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can aid in muscle recovery.