After vigorous activity, your body needs carbohydrates to refuel.
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Your body gets its fuel to complete a workout from food. While you're working up a sweat, your body is burning calories and expending energy. Whether you need to replace those calories and what you should refuel with depends on a number of factors including your fitness goals, the duration of your workout and the intensity of your workout.
Determine Your Goals
Whether your goal is to lose weight, gain weight or maintain weight, calories play a huge role in getting to your fitness destination. You will see changes in your body when you alter either the number of calories consumed or energy expended during physical activity. To maintain your weight, you need to consume about the same number of calories as you are burning, and to gain weight, you need to consume more calories than you burn. To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit, meaning you are eating fewer calories than you using. For those trying to slim down, caloric intake needs to be reduced by 500 to 1,000 calories per day to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week. If you're trying to maintain or gain weight, you will need to replace the energy used during a workout.
When You Need to Refuel
If your workout lasts less than an hour, you should focus on proper nutrition three hours before exercise as opposed to replacing calories after a workout. However, if your workout lasts longer than an hour, you need to replace some of the calories burned. After vigorous physical activity, you should have a snack or meal within 15 minutes to an hour, notes the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Protein synthesis, which repairs and rebuilds your muscles after a workout, is greatest during the minutes immediately following a workout, so it's the optimal time to consume carbohydrates to replace depleted glycogen stores, says Colorado State University Extension. If you do not replace the calories and nutrients burned quickly enough, you may not reap the complete muscle-building and strengthening benefits of your workout.
Eat Your Calories Wisely
The goal for post-workout nutrition is recovery. The duration and intensity of your workout determine your body's fuel source during physical activity. Higher-intensity workouts are more dependent on carbohydrates, while lower-intensity workouts are more dependent on fat. This is how you will determine how you should replace the calories you burned during your workout. Short, low-to-medium intensity workouts require a snack or meal with a carbohydrate-to-protein ratio of 2-to-1, and long, high-intensity workouts should have a 3-1 ratio. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends chocolate milk, a high-density nutrition bar or a smoothie to recover from an endurance activity.
The best food to replace calories burned after a workout for one person may not be the best source of fuel for another person. Experiment with different ways to replace the calories burned. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a whole-wheat pita sandwich with turkey and veggies, pretzels and low-fat milk. However, it's difficult for some people to stomach solid food after a workout. If that is the case, your body may be better suited for nutrient-boosting sports gels.