While I fully encourage eating when hungry, and stopping when full, this doesn’t always work for athletes. Research has shown that calorie intake is reduced after intense or prolonged exercise. This means that calorie intake does not increase substantially to compensate for the extra calories burned through exercise. This could be due to the effect of exercise on hormones that influence hunger levels.
Wondering why it matters if sufficient calories are consumed post exercise? As I’ve discussed before, the impacts of underfuelling on health and performance should be of concern for all athletes (click here for more info). Those who fail to fuel sufficiently post-workout are likely not going to recover as quickly and may find themselves feeling overly famished later on.
Appetite is not a good indicator of energy needs in athletes. Take a good look at your current post-work meal or snack. It should contain a mixture of carbohydrates to replenish depleted glycogen stores and protein to help muscles recover. Good sources of each include:
- Carbohydrates: bread, rice, pasta, oatmeal, cereal, fruit, milk, yogurt
- Protein: lean meats, eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese
The amount of carbohydrates and protein that you need will depend on the length and intensity of your workout, as well as individual factors such as body weight. As a rough estimate, aim to consume 1-1.2 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight in addition to 20-30 grams of protein. For instance, a 70 kg athlete should aim for 70-84 grams of carbohydrate plus 20-30 grams of protein. This can usually be achieved through an athlete’s post-workout meal. For example:
- 2 slices of bread with 2 eggs and a cup of chocolate milk
- 1 serving high protein overnight oats and a banana
- Stir fry with 1.5 cups cooked brown rice and 75 grams chicken breast
- 1.5 cups cooked spaghetti with pasta sauce with 75 grams extra lean ground beef
For those who feel too nauseous to eat post-workout, taking in liquid forms of food, homemade smoothies or specialized recovery drinks tends to be a good strategy. Some examples of this for the same athlete above include:
- Speedy recovery smoothie and a homemade muffin
- 2 scoops Klean Recovery
- 2 scoops BioSteel Recovery formula and a banana
Post-workout, rather than relying on hunger to lead your nutrition decisions, have a well-planned meal or snack in place that will provide ample carbohydrates and protein to help you recover and get the most out of your workout.
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