There are plenty of benefits when it comes to exercise – from improved heart health to a boost in your mood.
But, to get the very best out of those benefits, we need to make sure we’re fuelling our bodies with the right food after a sweat session – and no, that doesn’t always mean grabbing a protein shake.
Eating after a workout is essential to optimizing recovery. It's an opportunity to refuel your muscles, reduce inflammation, and help build or maintain lean muscle mass.
Your post-workout nutrition can have a significant impact on your recovery and training adaptations. When we exercise, our bodies use up some of our energy stores and begin to break down muscle protein so ensuring the right nutrition after you train can help reverse some of these effects, improve recovery and even your results.
7 Eating Habits To Avoid After You Exercise
1. Eating Salads Right After A Workout
Yep, post-workout is one time that it may be okay to skip a salad, or at least pair it with something else. Salads are high in Fiber and require more energy for the gut to digest. It’s not the nutritional value that is the problem. The problem is how filling raw veggies can be when your body needs serious replenishment.
After a tough workout, you need calories, high-quality carbohydrates, and protein. If you fill up on salads that take a lot of volume in the stomach and make you feel full very quickly, you won’t be getting the number of nutrients or calories you need post-workout.
2. Sipping On A Post-Workout Sports Drink
These are classically marketed as the perfect hydration replenishment post-workout because of their electrolytes—so what could be so bad?
The high sugar content in sports drinks makes them unnecessary post-workout when your body doesn’t need the extra glucose running through your bloodstream. A syrupy sports drink will just cause your blood sugar to spike violently when you don’t need it. Most sports drinks are high in refined sugars and additives that are not great for someone who is looking to optimize their health
If you feel drained and in need of glucose replacement, reach for coconut water or a healthy fig smoothie.
3. Forgetting To Hydrate
Not drinking H2O after you sweat? No good.
Drinking water after a workout is just as important as it is before and during. When we exercise, fluids are lost through sweat and need to be replaced. The more we lose, the more we need.
Dehydration can lead to headaches, fatigue, muscle cramps, and GI issues. Aim to drink at least 2 cups (16 ounces) after exercise. Additional fluids or electrolytes may be needed if engaging in high-intensity exercise, in hot/humid environments, or you are a ‘salty’ sweater.”
4. Not Eating Carbohydrates
While protein is widely recognised as a post-workout essential, did you also know that carbohydrates are a vital part of post-workout recovery and nourishment?
Carbs are our body’s primary fuel source and are needed after a workout. Your body taps into its glycogen stores during exercise and eating carbohydrates in your post-workout meal helps to restore them. A combination of protein and carbs will aid in the recovery process by replenishing glycogen stores, helping to build and repair muscle, and preparing you for future workouts.
Opting for ‘smart carbohydrates‘ such as whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, rather than refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta or flour products. This will ensure you have sustained energy throughout your day.
5. Not Eating At All
It might be tempting to use exercise as a way to maintain a caloric deficit for weight maintenance or loss, but it’s important to eat and refuel to maintain lean muscle mass. Your body needs replenishment after all the hard work it has done, so it’s really important not to skip your meal after you work out.
Eating helps to lower your stress hormone and balance your blood sugar throughout the day. More importantly, skipping food after a workout can create an incredibly unhealthy relationship with both food and exercise. Exercise is fantastic for so many reasons that have nothing to do with calories ‘burnt’ so focus on getting the most from your training by fuelling yourself properly.”
6. Eating Processed Protein Bars
Sure, protein is necessary after a workout, but you shouldn’t judge a bar by its cover; especially a protein bar. Unfortunately, even the most popular post-workout bars are often no better than your average chocolate bar.
The reason is many of them are sugar-rich and ultra-processed offering little ‘refuel value, containing artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame), refined sugar or high levels of natural sugar. In addition to the added sugar you’ll find in many processed protein bars also contain sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners, which can cause an upset stomach.
If you love grabbing a bar on the go post-sweat, make sure you scan its nutritional value and swap ultra-processed kinds for homemade energy bars. The shorter the ingredients list, the better. An equally convenient, but ideal alternative could be a banana or berries with a handful of nuts.
7. Eating Heavily Processed Fast Food
Processed food is never great for your body, but it’s easy to fall into the mindset of wanting to treat yourself after working hard at the gym.
After a workout, you might think that because you’ve worked hard, you deserve a treat. You might then head to the drive-thru or chicken restaurant, but if you want the maximum chance of recovery, your body will need more sustenance than this. Packed with empty calories and generally high in sugar, these foods will do very little to help with muscle growth and recovery, and will instead sit heavily in your stomach, offering minimal protein— the most important nutrient to prioritize after a particularly strenuous sweat session.
While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the occasional processed snack or fast food, it’s ultimately not the best meal option to nourish your body after working out, and you may find yourself feeling sick and lethargic.
Sample Post-workout Meals & Snacks
Combinations of the foods listed above can create great meals that provide you with all the nutrients you need after exercise.
• grilled chicken with roasted vegetables and rice
• egg omelette with avocado spread on whole-grain toast
• salmon with sweet potato
• Millet porridge with veggies
• Cottage cheese and fruits
• Pita and hummus
• Rice crackers and peanut butter
• Fruit smoothie with dairy or oat milk
• Greek yoghurt with berries and nuts