Every seasoned dater knows that planning the perfect first date is only half the battle when you're trying to make a lasting impression. What you do after saying goodnight is just as important. If you text the wrong message or wait too long to call, all of your valiant efforts can go right out the window! The same holds true when it comes to fitness.
Sure, sweating it out at the gym is important when you're trying to lose weight, lean out, or get stronger, but what you put into your body after you go home—and how soon you eat it—is just as paramount. But here's where it gets a bit confusing: The foods that might aid recovery on cardio day may not be the best way to refuel after a Crossfit class. We did the heavy lifting for you, though, and checked in with some top nutrition and fitness experts to find out what their recommended eats are. Grab their picks to build the body you've always wanted and stop stressing about if you're eating the right thing. It's no sweat with this guide! Plus, are you finding that you Can't Lose Weight? Fitness Experts Explain Why!
The Best Recovery Fuel if You're… Endurance Training
Going on a long run or bike ride is a great way to boost your endurance and blow off some serious steam. But when you're working out for two or three hours without a break, your recovery fuel is of the utmost importance.
An ideal meal combines some complex carbs with a protein, says Debora Warner, founder, president, and program director of Mile High Run Club, the first dedicated fitness studio for running. "A grass-fed beef burger on a rice bun with a side of sweet potatoes is a smart choice that fits the bill," says Warner. "During endurance training, athletes lose a lot of sweat and, subsequently, potassium. Sweet potatoes help restore the nutrient, making them a smart addition to your meal. Beef is a high quality complete protein that's rich in amino acids–which help in the repair and growth of muscles–and creatine, which aids muscle and tendon repair."
The Best Recovery Fuel if You're… Taking a Pilates or Yoga Class
While yoga may not burn as many calories as running or Zumba, you'll definitely need something small to refuel after bending yourself like a pretzel and pushing yourself to the limit mentally. "Try eating eggs or peanut butter with whole wheat toast," says Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN, a dietitian with Just For Today, a nutrition counseling and yoga center. "These foods are full of protein, which helps your muscles recover after a workout. The faster your muscles recover, the sooner you'll be able to hit the mat for round two!"
The Best Recovery Fuel if You're… Trying to Lose Weight
If losing inches or dropping pounds before summer is your goal, you'll want to eat something light but filling that's also rich in muscle-repairing protein. "I recommend plain Greek yogurt and berries," says Kaufman. "Berries contain a lot of water and will make you feel full quickly. They are also high in fiber, a nutrient that aids weight loss. Yogurt is high in protein, which helps build lean, calorie-burning muscle and aids post-workout recovery." Look for yogurts enriched with vitamin D. The nutrient can boost strength, ward off injury and, when combined with calcium, blast away belly flab! Find out the 20 Best and Worst Greek Yogurts now!
The Best Recovery Fuel if You're… Strength Training in the A.m.
If you pump iron in the morning, the best way to aid muscle growth and recovery is with a 2:1 ratio of low-fiber carbohydrates and protein, says Jim White RD, ACSM HFS, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. "I recommend eating something like a cup of wheat puff cereal with half a banana, a dash of cinnamon and one cup of skim milk." The milk's protein helps rebuild muscle that was broken down and the simple carbohydrates help restore muscle glycogen that was lost during training, he explains. Replenishing the stores post-pump can boost future workout performance—a key component to sculpting a trimmer figure.
The Best Recovery Fuel if You're… Strength Training in the P.m.
If you want to get the most from your after-dark sweat session, you'll need to recover with some fast-digesting carbohydrates and lean proteins, says White. A cup of cooked rice and three to six hard-boiled egg whites with a handful of fresh spinach and a dollop of salsa fits the bill. "Sleep is also vital for recovery, he adds. "Eating a slow-digesting, protein-rich snack like non-fat plain Greek yogurt after dinner may help you sleep through the night (which can give you more energy for tomorrow's workout) and further enhance recovery." Speaking of sleep, find out the 7 Habits for Better Sleep.
The Best Recovery Fuel if You… Just Hit the Hiking Trail
There's nothing more satisfying than hiking to the top of the mountain and taking in the breathtaking views —except maybe the meal you get to eat after you've finally climbed all the way back down. "After hitting the trails for a few hours, you'll want to re-hydrate with plenty of water and nourish your fatigued muscles with energy-boosting carbs and muscle-repairing protein," says Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, sports dietitian and owner of Family. Food. Fiesta. She recommends munching on a peanut butter, banana and honey whole-grain sandwich or half a cup of nuts mixed with dried fruit and a tortilla rolled with two slices of turkey, lettuce and mustard. "These meals provide the perfect combination of nutrients to satisfy your body's needs and control your hunger," she adds. They also easily fit into a backpack.
The Best Recovery Fuel if You… Just Left Hot Yoga Class
"After a hot yoga class, you want to replenish the fluids you've lost during class," explains Sunshine Daidone, Founder of POE Yoga. "Dehydration can cause muscle cramps, headaches and lethargy, so consider refueling with unsweetened coconut water, or add some fresh-squeezed citrus to your water to make it more enticing" She also suggests consuming a light post-workout meal that's rich in magnesium, potassium and calcium to aid in electrolyte replenishment and hydration. If you don't want to feel worn out and cramped the rest of the day, this is key! Try to eat within an hour of leaving the mat. Avocados, spinach, kale, cantaloupe, almonds, cashews, lentils, and bananas are all good choices.
The Best Recovery Fuel if You're… Looking to Pack on Muscle
If you want to make serious gains, your post-pump fuel is just as vital as your workout. Fast-digesting carbohydrates—those with little fat or fiber—and fast-digesting proteins should be your go-tos, says White. Your carb to protein ratio should be 2:1. For an easy, eat-anywhere post-pump snack, mix one packet of cream of rice cereal with a scoop of whey protein powder and half a banana. "The carbs will help replenish the muscle glycogen stores that were used during the strength training session and the protein will speed protein synthesis and recovery," explains White. This means your body will break down less of your lean, hard-earned mass for energy and you'll pack on muscle more quickly.
The Best Recovery Fuel if You… Do HIIT
High intensity interval training is short—typically only twenty to thirty minutes—but intense. Due to the shorter duration, you won't need to refuel with a particularly large meal, but you need to eat strategically to reap optimal results from your sweat session. Kaufman recommends ¾ cup of carrots and a few tablespoons of hummus. (Check out our exclusive list of the 22 Best & Worst Popular Hummus Choices!) "Veggies are always beneficial, but after working out, your body needs additional vitamins and minerals beyond what's found in vegetables. The hummus is not only a great tasting addition, but also rich in protein that helps your body recover and fiber that helps boost satiety." The more satisfied you feel after your workout, the less apt you'll be to overeat and derail all of your hard-earned progress!
The Best Recovery Fuel if You… Just Left Crossfit Class
"Most Crossfitters burn between 500 to 1,000 calories per workout," says White. "Since strength gains and fat loss are common workout goals, your recovery meal should be specially designed to help you get there." White suggests three to six ounces of a lean protein with a larger serving of carbohydrates. A cup of white pasta, three to six ounces of 99% lean ground turkey, four tablespoons of fresh tomato sauce and two cups of chopped asparagus or steamed spinach fits the bill, he says.
The Best Recovery Fuel if You're… Doing Cardio in the A.m
If you hit the treadmill or hop off the elliptical before the sun comes up, be sure to leave enough time to eat breakfast 15 to 30 minutes post exercise to replenish your lost glycogen (energy) stores and repair and grow your muscles, says Koszyk. She suggests making a smoothie with one and a half cups of fruit, a half-cup of water and a scoop of plant-based protein powder. Another great and tasty post-workout meal Koszyk suggests is a piece of fruit served with an egg wrap made with two scrambled eggs, spinach and a tablespoon of salsa. Whipping up one of these meals ensures that you'll be able to give it your all the next time you hit the gym, which can help you reach your goals even faster! For 100+ creamy, delicious weight-loss recipes, click here for Zero Belly Smoothies!
The Best Recovery Fuel if You're… Doing Cardio in the P.m
Taking to the track after a long day at the office is a great way to blow off steam and stretch your legs! To satisfy hunger levels and optimize your recovery post workout, Koszyk recommends eating a good balance of carbs and protein. If you don't have time to sit down to a proper dinner within 30 minutes of your workout, Koszyk suggests snacking on a cup of plain Greek yogurt with a cup of fresh blueberries, a fruit that has been proven to ward off muscle soreness and speed the rate of recovery. Translation: You'll be ready to push your body to the limit again tomorrow! "A good dinner option would be ¾ cup of roasted sweet potatoes (for the carbs) with 4 to 5 ounces of roasted chicken or fish (for the protein) and your vegetable of choice," says Koszyk. For more ideas on what to eat for dinner after a cardio workout, check out 20 Trainers Reveal What They Eat After a Workout!