Carbohydrates provide the body fuel during a workout.
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Most fitness enthusiasts understand that proper nutrition before a workout is essential. But what you put in your body after your workout can be just as important. Eating a balance of carbohydrates and protein after exercising will aid in recovery and muscle building and ultimately help you achieve your fitness goals.
The Glycogen Factor
During your workout, the body uses stored glucose for fuel. In the muscles, the stored form of glucose is called glycogen. When you work out, your body depletes this stored energy. For this reason, it's important to eat carbohydrates immediately after your workout. Consuming carbohydrates after you exercise gives your body a chance to replenish the glycogen lost during your exercise regimen.
Snacks With Carbohydrates
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends eating carbohydrates 15 to 20 minutes after your workout. You shouldn't eat the carbohydrates alone, however. Ideally, you want to consume a snack that includes a 3-to-1 ratio of carbohydrates and protein. Good examples of post-workout snacks include a smoothie with kale, nonfat, plain Greek yogurt, fruit and soy milk. You can also consume yogurt with berries or a slice of whole wheat bread with 2 tablespoons of nut butter and a sliced banana on top. In addition, low-fat chocolate milk has been shown to be a good post-workout snack. A 2012 study by "Medicine and Sports Science" found that consuming chocolate milk immediately after exercise and again two hours after exercise may be optimal for recovery and reduce muscle damage.
Meals With Carbohydrates
In addition to eating carbohydrates directly after your workout, you want to aim to eat a regular meal three to four hours after you exercise. Examples of good meals with carbohydrates include turkey on a whole-grain wrap with your favorite sliced veggies or 3 ounces of baked chicken over brown rice served with a cup of sauteed broccoli. For vegetarians, replace the chicken for tempeh or tofu, which provides a healthy dose of protein in addition to the carbohydrates found in the rice. Another meal idea is quinoa and black beans -- which both contain complex carbohydrates -- served with a side salad.
Remember that while carbohydrates are important after a workout, it is necessary to consume protein as well. Carbohydrates help to rebuild your glycogen stores, while protein is needed to build and repair your muscles. You also want to make sure you eat both carbs and protein one to three hours before you step foot in the gym for an optimal workout. Mix and match with different lean proteins and healthy carbs in the context of a well-balanced meal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends making about half of your plate vegetables, one-fourth protein and the other one-fourth carbohydrates.