Thinking about rewarding yourself for a good workout with a bucket of fries and a bacon cheeseburger? Think again. What you eat after hitting the gym may just be the most important food you eat all day.
Some quick gym science: Your body stores excess energy in the form of glycogen and protein. When you work out, your body burns fuel from anything you’ve eaten recently, and then it breaks down stored glycogen. Your muscles start to use available protein to rebuild within a few hours of working out, but your body is especially good at absorbing carbs and protein within 45 minutes after your workout—the post-workout window you’ve probably heard about.
“It all comes down to the carbohydrates and protein,” says Manuel Villacorta, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “They’re the two key things your body needs—and right after you work out is when your blood circulates best.” If your main goal is to build muscle, try to eat at least 30g of protein and 30-35g of carbs within about 15 minutes of your workout. If you’re just trying to stay in shape or shed a few pounds, you can take your time and eat within 45 minutes or an hour after your workout.
Here are the best foods to fuel and reload those depleted muscles after a tough workout: