High five—you’re making it to the gym on the regular, building muscle, and torching calories. Thing is, if you’re not refueling with the right foods after you towel off in the locker room, you might be undoing all the benefits of your sweat sessions.
There’s lots of conflicting info about post-workout nutrition out there, but the rules really aren’t that complicated. Read on for the seven most common food fails, plus the smart nutrition tweaks that’ll pump your energy and motivation and make reaching your fitness goals so much easier.
You Wait Too Long to Eat After Leaving the Gym
Maybe you’re trying to shed pounds. Or you fear that by eating too soon after a workout, you’ll lose resolve and face plant into a bag of chips. “But right now, your energy-depleted body is gasping for calories,” says Nancy Clark, R.D., a sports nutritionist in private practice outside Boston and author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. Clark suggests getting food into your system ASAP, say within 30 minutes of finishing up, to keep blood-sugar levels steady and ward off crazy fatigue and hunger. If it’s mealtime, have a 400- to 500-calorie breakfast, lunch, or dinner; if it’s between meals, go for a 200- to 300-calorie snack that mixes protein with complex carbs,” says Clark. Low-fat yogurt with nuts or fruit or a scrambled egg wrap are both good picks.
You Chill at the Fridge Post-Workout
After a hard-charging run, you figure you’ve burned hundreds of calories—and that calls for a Cheesecake Factory-esque meal to restock your reserves, right? Um, no. Research shows that most of us wildly overestimate how many calories we burn working out. Even though you feel like you’ve incinerated a thousand calories on the track or pavement, it was likely just a fraction of that…and you’ll gain it all back and more if you fall into this trap, says Clark.
You Rehydrate with a Sports Drink
If you’re an elite athlete doing super-intense training, you might benefit from rehydrating with a sports drink, which delivers energy in the form of sugar and replenishes levels of electrolytes (those muscle-boosting minerals that are lost in sweat). But otherwise, regular H2O is the best way to hydrate, says Clark. “Use your thirst as a guide; drink as much water as you need to feel hydrated again, and don’t try to force yourself to drink a set amount,” she says. Or rely on the pee test: If you pee every few hours and it’s a light color, your fluid level is fine, she says.
You Go Overboard on the Protein
“Protein is a great recovery nutrient that helps rebuild muscle torn during a workout, but your body can only use so much,” says Clark. Instead, balance your protein intake with complex carbs. Whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables provide the steady energy your system craves while helping protein to do its job repairing muscle. And don’t fear fat; the good kind keeps you satiated. Super options: chicken and brown rice; cereal, milk, and fruit; and pasta and turkey meatballs, recommends Clark.
You Reach for High-Sugar or High-Caffeine Snacks
It’s normal to be fatigued after strenuous exercise—but relying on a post-gym donut or a pumpkin spice latte for a pick me up can backfire. You’ll get an energy lift at first, but it’ll wear off quickly, leaving your blood sugar tanking and you reaching for more junk, says Clark. Power up by packing something nutritious in your gym bag, rather than reaching for caffeine or sweets, she says. This way, your energy fix won’t quickly turn into an energy suck.
You Head Straight for the Smoothie Bar
In theory, there’s nothing wrong with refueling and rehydrating with a post-exercise smoothie. But often these workout drinks don’t contain the right balance of carbs and protein, says Clark, or they’re super-high in calories and leave you overcompensating for the calories you just burned off. Like your post-gym meals and snacks, make sure the ingredients include equal parts protein and good carbs, and keep the calories under 300. Score protein from Greek yogurt, low-fat milk, soy milk, or even peanut butter, and get your carbs via fruit and veggies.
You Hit Happy Hour After the Gym
Beating your best training time calls for a celebration. Just don’t do it with alcohol. First, booze is dehydrating, so it’s not the ideal beverage to pound after you’ve sweat buckets an hour or two ago, says Clark. But also, alcohol isn’t exactly an ideal recovery drink. A 2014 study in the journal PLOS ONE found that alcohol prevents muscles from synthesizing protein after a workout—keeping them from repairing torn muscle fibers.
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health
FEATURED · TRAINING AND HEALTH
calories fitness gym nutrition recovery recovery drink training