Workout Recovery: How Soon Should You Eat After Intense Exercise?

The window for optimal recovery is shorter than you probably think

You just finished an intense workout. You’re sweaty (well, except if you’re like this girl), in pursuit of some cold water and surprisingly, not hungry at all.

Common sense might lead you to think that ravaging hunger should follow immediately after a particularly hard or long workout (exercise requires energy, energy comes from food, and so the cycle continues), but sometimes such is not the case.

In fact, although your body’s reaction to intense exercise is unique, depending on your gender and body composition, some research has shown that intense exercise may actually suppress your appetite.

So, if you ever feel not so hungry right after say, a long run or a Tabata session, it’s not entirely abnormal, but it also doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t eat.

You probably already knew the importance of consuming nutritious foods that will replenish your energy stores after exercising, but what you may not have realized is that the timing of your post-workout meals is equally as significant.

In fact, the window for optimal recovery is much smaller than you might think. Leslie Bonci, the director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a certified specialist in sports dietetics told the New York Times Well Blog that eating a small snack with a blend of protein and carbohydrates within the first 15 minutes after exercise is most ideal.

“The enzymes that help the body re-synthesize muscle glycogen are really most active in that first 15 minutes. The longer we wait to eat something, the longer it takes to recover,” she said.

So, for those who have to wait a while before hunger sets in after a high intensity workout, the good news is that you don’t have to eat a whole lot right away to reap the nutritional benefits of a post-workout refuel. 

Bonci recommends consuming a “fist-sized” snack. “The goal is not a post-exercise meal. It’s really a post-exercise appetizer to help the body recover as quickly as it can,” she told Well Blog. “You can do trail mix, or make a peanut butter sandwich. Eat half before and half after.”

She also noted that proper recovery nutrition and timing can help to prevent or minimize delayed onset muscle soreness.

If snacks like trail mix or a peanut butter sandwich aren’t really up your alley, try something simple like a piece of fruit or a smoothie mixed with protein powder.

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