Last week we talked about what types of foods fuel a workout. This week, we're tackling the post-workout meal.

Many nutritionists will tell you that what you eat after you work out is one of the most important meals. After a workout,  muscles are literally starving for nutrition. I spoke with Andria Barrett, a culinary nutritionist and frequent guest speaker at the Running Room, to find out the best foods to eat after a gym session. She also teaches holistic nutrition cooking classes at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition and is the cooking class assistant at The Big Carrot in Toronto.

Andria says, "After exercising, a few things have happened physiologically: you sweat (lost electrolytes and water), you expended energy (used glucose) and you have fatigued your muscles (meaning you need amino acids for repair). Plus your blood sugar is low so we need to replenish the glycogen stores ASAP.”

The first thing you need to do is replenish your body’s amino acids. Amino acids are what help you build muscle, strong bones and balance hormones.  One way to restore these necessary building blocks is to eat lots of protein soon after your workout. Andria says she prefers a liquid meal because it’s absorbed and digested faster. “The best sources of post-workout protein are powders like whey, hemp, rice and peas. Or chose egg whites and lean chicken.”

The second ingredient for post-workout success is stocking up on carbohydrates. A good workout draws upon your stores of glycogen (a form of stored sugar). Carbohydrates will help replenish glycogen -- but not all carbs are created equal. Andria says, "There are two types of carbohydrates: the carbs that supply energy very quickly and the ones that provide a slow, steady stream. They both have a place depending on your goals. Simple carbohydrates are high on the GI scale and get into the system very quickly”. These fast-acting carbs should be your choice post-workout; they get the proper nutrients to your depleted muscles quickly. Good examples are juice, fruit, white potatoes, raisins, and dates.

Andria is also a former dancer, fitness instructor, fitness competitor and cheerleader for the Toronto Argonauts so I couldn’t think of a better person to ask for an example of her post-workout meal: “Usually after a workout, I have a post-workout shake and one to two hours later I’ll have a huge salad with sprouts, chick peas, avocado or fish/chicken, sweet potato and greens with omega 3s.”

Andria's post-workout shake
1 scoop SunWarrior Raw protein powder,
2-3 medjool dates or fruit (e.g., blueberries, pineapple, ½ banana)
1 tbsp goji berries,
1 cup of coconut water

“The coconut water replenishes my electrolytes, the protein provides me with amino acids and the dates/fruit are my quick-releasing carbs.”

Lastly, try to stay away from all fats in your post-workout meals. Fat can slow down the rate of carbohydrate absorption, which works in our favour at other times of day, but not in this case. Keep in mind that the first hour after your workout is the most important time for replenishing.

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Zoja Popovic is a Toronto-based journalist and national TV news producer. She is the consummate health and wellness enthusiast, and is obsessed with Yoga. Follow Zoja @zojapopovic. Namaste!