Workout done. Now, what can I eat?

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Hands down my favorite part of competitive swimming during my teenage years was all of the food. And I’m not exaggerating when I say ALL of the food. We’re talking 5-6 big meals a day here.

Swimming 4-5 hours a day, 6-7 times a week, with school in between, really builds up an appetite. When you’re younger you have your metabolism on your side. And there are a lot of nutritional needs you can let fall to the wayside without a major impact.

But when you grow up? Not so much.

Clients ask me about post-workout nutrition probably three times a day. And I always struggle to give the “right” answer. Why? Because there isn’t one.

Just like I talked about in my previous post about nutrition, you have to find the right nutrition for YOU. Meaning what I eat after a hard workout might not necessarily be what you should eat after a hard workout.

But since I get asked so frequently, I am sharing some things I know work for myself as well as some of my clients.

First and foremost I think it depends on how you’re currently training. If you’re like me and don’t have any races coming up and are working out just for the sheer joy of feeling like you earned those 4 slices of pizza you have planned for later in the day, I would say you don’t need to have any set post workout meal.

Right now I like to workout in the mornings before breakfast. Afterwards I eat two eggs with some cheese and a giant handful of spinach. That way I’m replenishing carbs as well as hitting my body with a nice amount of protein and some healthy fat.

This post workout meal is well balanced. And I’m not eating to the point where my stomach is distended and I need to unbutton my pants just to breathe.

However, if you’re training for your upcoming Olympic distance triathlon, you most likely have multiple workouts a day. That means that after one workout not only are you replenishing and recovering, you’re also fueling your body for another beat down a few hours later.

In that case I’ll give you an example from one of my clients who races just about every weekend (she’d race more if she could) and is constantly bouncing between one workout and the next. She always likes to make her version of a grain bowl so that she can really fill up on carbs. Her body works very well off of a high carb diet. So that’s how she fuels herself to recover and prep for her next training session.

The grain bowl she makes most often has a mix of quinoa and brown rice, avocado, spinach, cooked salmon, and lemon juice. The avocado and salmon give her a good boost of fat. The rice and quinoa replenish her carbs and work to keep her fuller longer. The protein and fiber in the quinoa, which isn’t found in as high quantities in rice, takes longer for her body to break down than a simpler carb, and will give her energy for a longer period of time.

I can tell some of you are thinking things like “I don’t like salmon”. “That sounds like a lot of food”. And “Why can’t my post workout meal be a donut?”

Don’t worry, you can make a grain bowl out of pretty much whatever you want. The point is to have a good mix of protein, fat, and carbs that will help your muscles recover, as well as give you energy for your next workout. So switch out the salmon for some steak or grilled chicken and try it out.

And if that’s too much food for you that’s okay too! Try it out a few times and see what the right portion is for you and your body’s needs. One thing our bodies are great at is telling is what they need and when they’ve had enough. So just listen.

The last example I want to touch on here is a post workout meal in the evening. By evening, I mean you’ve already eaten dinner and all you’re going to do after your workout is go to bed.

What do I do in this situation? I don’t eat anything.

Is that bad/wrong/not a good idea? For me, it works. So I would have to say no. But I am not a dietitian and this is just how I like to operate when I workout right before going to sleep.

Sometimes an evening workout puts me in such a great mental state to just fall into bed and pass out. And I don’t want to wake my body and metabolism back up again by eating something. Not to mention I sleep terribly when I eat right before bed. So I have to take that into account as well.

Is this for everyone? Probably not. But this is where you need to play around with your nutrition and see what works best for you.

Sometimes I don’t have any time to cook and I’ll just eat a protein bar. When that’s the case I make sure to load up on extra veggies at lunch time, otherwise I’ll be more prone to snack unhealthily throughout the day because I haven’t helped my body recover properly.

If you don’t have time for the “healthiest” meal right after your morning swim, don’t sweat it. Instead, be prepared in that situation. Have some protein bars and other packable snacks with you so you’re never in a situation where you don’t have any food post workout and are forced to run to Dunkin Donuts and crush a box of 25 donut holes on your drive to work.

Just like with your standard nutrition, you’ll need to play around with it and see what works best for you and what your body needs. There are so many moving variables that I can’t begin to know about each and every one of your lives, but hopefully these examples give you some ideas and help you start figuring out what works best for you.

Lissa Henderson, Tri Swim Coach