Why You Need To Eat Right After You Exercise, No Matter What

by Isadora Baum, CHC

You've just had a great workout and you're feeling awesome. But, maybe you're running short on time and don't have time for a post-workout snack? Turns out, waiting too long to eat after exercising can be pretty bad for your recovery plan and it could interfere with your ability to strengthen and repair worn out muscles. So, no matter what you have going on after that session, it's handy to keep at least a protein bar in your workout bag to reach for during that immediate commute.

As a certified health coach, I work with clients on not only making time for exercise, but also maximizing their results. (You're putting in those hours, you might as well use them wisely, right?) And, it's not just about putting in the work while working out, but it's also about taking time to recover properly, so you can get back to the gym for your next workout feeling strong and agile. Luckily, eating right away, or within a 30 minute to one-hour window following a workout, can speed muscle repair and restore lost electrolytes from sweat and dehydration.

Here are 11 things that can happen if you wait too long to eat after a workout.

1. You'll Be Sore

"There’s a window of opportunity in the hour post workout, and if you wait too long to eat post-workout, this window begins to close, meaning you won’t efficiently be able to send badly-needed fuel to tired and sore muscles, and you’ll pay the price with post-exercise soreness and fatigue," explains Pam Nisevich Bede, MS, RD, sports dietitian with Abbott’s EAS Sports nutrition, over email with Bustle. Make sure to grab something to regain energy.

2. Your Muscles Won't Repair

"According to a study published in The Physician and Sports Medicine, consuming a meal or snack containing both protein and carbohydrates within 30 minutes after a workout can help reduce muscle fatigue and reduce the time it takes for muscles to repair themselves after being damaged during intense exercise," explains Bede. Without the fuel, your muscles won't be able to recover as they should, and they'll just stay broken down from the workout.

3. You Won't Be Able To Lift As Well Next Workout

If you don't give your body the food it needs to build and restore muscle, you might not be able to lift as heavy or have as much strength during your next sweat session, says Bede. In fact, "one study of weightlifters published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that consuming protein after a workout can help you lift more weight during your next workout session," Bede explains.

4. You Won't Get The Protein You Need

Your muscles need protein to recover, and if you wait too long after that given window period, as Bede had mentioned, your body won't be able to get its fill in the time frame it needs. So, eat up. "Aim for a protein intake above and beyond the current recommended daily allowance, which is only 0.36 grams/pound of body weight and won’t protect or repair those working muscles," Bede says. "Athletes and active individuals training for a race, doing a competition, or intensely training should increase that amount to between 0.55 and 0.8 grams per pound of body weight," Bede recommends.

5. And, You'll Slow Down That Protein Synthesis

According to personal trainer Greer Rothermel over interview with Elite Daily, when you miss that window, you don't store glycogen properly and you'll slow down protein synthesis, which your body needs to do to recover from muscle damage. A great snack? A banana with peanut butter or a protein shake with whey protein powder for immediate release to the tissues and muscles.

6. You'll Be Tired

According to Bede, you might be really tired if you're not eating within an hour. For instance, you might leave your HIIT class feeling high off the endorphins and full of energy, but if you wait too long to eat, you might start to get tired and "crash."

7. You Might Get Overuse Injuries

According to Jennifer Beck, M.D., sports medicine specialist and pediatric orthopedist at UCLA, over interview with SELF, not eating enough can lead to overuse injuries, as your muscles aren't able to repair as they should. Injuries can remove you from the gym completely, which isn't fun, so it's super important to re-fuel and rehydrate immediately.

8. Not Replenishing Electrolytes

Beck also noted in the article that you lose electrolytes and minerals, like sodium, calcium, and potassium, through sweat, so when you're not eating or drinking a protein, electrolyte-concentrated sports drink post-workout, you're not replenishing those lost nutrients. A great source of potassium? A banana.

9. You'll Be Dehydrated

Bede cautions against not drinking water with your meal after working out, as you've lost lots of fluids through sweat. Because you're depleted, you'll need to give your muscles water to bring back those fluids and help speed the recovery process. Make sure you have a bottle with you, and drink up immediately after.

10. Your Muscles Will Break Down Over Time

According to Rebecca Gahan, owner and founder of Kick@55 Fitness over email with Bustle, if you don't eat within an hour of working out, you could get muscle atrophy, which is muscle breakdown, and this can worsen with time.

If you're waiting too long to eat after working out, you could be putting your health at risk. Make sure to carry something with you and give yourself time to eat something that's packed with protein and healthy carbs for immediate relief, no matter what.