If you have decided to ramp up your exercise, congratulations! Now comes the next big question: what to eat to optimally support workouts? And does meal timing and quantity matter?
The short answer: it depends. If your goal is to build muscle or to increase your workouts in length or intensity, you may benefit from taking a closer look at your diet.
What to eat?
The ideal post-exercise meal should contain both carbohydrates (bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, fruits, etc.) and proteins (meats, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, beans, etc.).
This is important because protein helps to repair and build muscle, which maximizes your efforts from exercise. Carbohydrates are necessary to replenish energy stores and prevent your body from breaking down muscle for energy.
How much to eat?
Research suggests aiming for 1 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. For example, if you weigh 165 pounds (75kg) then 75 grams of carbohydrate at your meal would be appropriate. This might look like:
¼ cup granola + 1 cup vanilla yogurt + banana OR
1½ cup cooked pasta with ½ cup tomato sauce
Research suggests aiming for roughly 25 grams at meals. This might look like:
Cup of Greek yogurt + small handful of nuts OR
A small chicken breast (about the size of a deck of cards)
When to eat?
This largely depends on when you last ate. If you ate 1 to 2 hours before your workout, then the post-exercise meal can be delayed up to 4 hours. However, if you ate 4 to 6 hours prior, then you should eat soon after (within 2 hours).
Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ. Nutrient timing revisited: Is there a post-exercise anabolic window? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2013;10(1).
Poole C, Wilborn C, Taylor L, Kerksick C. The role of post-exercise nutrient administration on muscle protein synthesis and glycogen synthesis. J Sports Sci Med. 2010;9(3):354-363.
Smith JEW, Holmes ME, McAllister MJ. Nutritional considerations for performance in young athletes. Journal of Sports Medicine. 2015;2015:1-13.
By Qian Liu, MGH Dietetic Intern