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What To Eat After Cardio: Refueling The Healthy Way

workout on empty stomach

What should you eat after a moderate or intense cardio session? Often people focus on the kind of cardio routine to follow without consideration for any information on the accompanying meals to refuel after the exercise and/or make the workout effective. Here is just about everything you need to know about what to eat after cardio.

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Statista reports that the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2019, 19.3 percent of the U.S. population engaged in sports and exercise on a daily basis (5). Motivation for working out often includes weight loss, staying healthy, and enhancing and maintaining physical strength. Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise helps shed unwanted pounds, maintain body weight, strengthen the heart and lungs by increasing the pulse rate, reduce the chances of chronic disease, and enable participants to enjoy a good night’s sleep, among many other benefits (6).

Foods That Make Cardio Effective

To understand what to eat after cardio, it is important to know the basics of cardio. Cardio exercises are activities that increase your heart rate, ranging from simple tasks to more energy-demanding workout routines (3). There are moderate, HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training), and longer cardio workouts. Examples of simple and complex cardio activities include daily routines like jogging, hiking, cycling, dancing, skipping rope, crab walking, squat jumps, and kickboxing. According to the American Heart Association, 150 minutes of moderate-intensity heart-pumping or 75 minutes of a vigorous-intensity level aerobic workout, spread out over four or more days of the week should be enough to help any adult attain their healthy lifestyle goals (1).

Read More: Cardio 7 Days A Week: Is It A Safe Approach Or A Ticking Bomb For Your Health? (Based On Science)

What To Eat Before And After Cardio?

What you eat before and after cardio could make or break your efforts because of the difference between the energy requirements before, during, and after the exercise. Choosing to workout on an empty stomach may be dangerous since your exercises are going to burn the essential carbohydrate stores and fats in the body, and you may risk going into a hypoglycemic episode whereby your blood sugar falls rapidly, and you could even pass out (2). It is, therefore, important to take the right kinds of foods before cardio. Do not work out on a full stomach either, since the proteins and carbohydrates will not have been broken down and muscles re-energized.

Explore Health recommends eating at least sixty to ninety minutes before your cardio session (8). Choose a meal that is low in fat and sugar, moderate in protein and high in carbs to ensure that it is digested quickly to provide energy for the working muscles. Also, proteins support muscle growth while carbohydrates restore the body’s primary energy supply. For instance, a banana or berries mixed in with an almond smoothie may make the perfect pre-workout refreshment (8).

protein after cardio
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What To Eat After Cardio?

Working out makes your body’s muscles use up the stored glycogen, especially during vigorous exercises. You may also feel hungry and settle for any food that you come across; therefore, it is important to know what to eat after cardio before engaging in the exercise for a full recharge. 

After the workout, try to eat as soon as you can because the body has a metabolic window that lasts about 20 to 30 minutes. During this time, the muscles absorb nutrients in the most efficient manner; therefore, you should replenish at this time for the body to maintain its energy supply (8). An expert on Explore Health further recommends prioritizing meals rich in carbohydrates and proteins to help muscle recovery and minimize soreness after an aerobic exercise (8). For instance, you can take a cup of low-fat chocolate milk. Another expert on Explore Health recommends that you consume a protein smoothie consisting of coconut water within an hour of working out (8).

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What To Eat After HIIT Cardio?

Focusing on specific types of cardio routines, you should take plenty of water (about 8 ounces) after a moderate cardio routine since you will have lost water and electrolytes through sweat. HIIT is a little bit more intense; therefore, apart from drinking plenty of water, you should consider a meal rich in carbohydrates and protein after cardio involving High-Intensity Interval Training. What to eat after HIIT cardio is key in ensuring you get more defined results, and carbohydrates and protein-rich meals, such as protein shake with one scoop of protein and a banana, tuna on white bread, or milk with cereals rebuild the muscles and restore the glycogen stores. Lastly, long cardio sessions require thorough re-energizing; therefore, you should drink plenty of water and eat more of the foods that are richer in carbohydrates and protein.

what to eat after cardio
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Food And Cardio For Weight Loss

Regular cardio combined with a heart-healthy nutrition plan results in safe weight loss and weight maintenance, which, in return, contributes to protection against diseases such as diabetes and heart conditions (6). However, you need to know what to eat after cardio to lose weight for the magic to happen.

First, identify the ideal aerobic exercises for weight loss, such as HIIT and lifting weights. Next, determine what to eat after cardio for fat loss. After the workout, you can take snacks with the correct percentage of carbs and proteins such as banana and peanut butter, baked sweet potatoes, and Greek yogurt with berries to make you feel full, repair muscles, and enhance the weight loss journey. Limit saturated and avoid trans fats because, after digestion, most of the fats may be stored in the belly and thighs or other places where you do not want them to.

Read More: Cardio On Leg Day: Should You Do It? Proper Ways Of Doing Cardio

Frequently Asked Questions On Cardio Workout And Diet

Here are answers to some of the questions that you may have on exercise-related meals.

exercise before or after breakfast
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  • Should You Exercise Before Or After Breakfast?

Most people consider breakfast to be the most important meal of the day. While health experts are still studying cardio in the morning and its effectiveness, a publication summarized on Medical News Today suggests that people who exercise before breakfast are more likely to burn twice as much fat as those who exercised after eating the same meal (4). This may be because after fasting overnight, people have lower insulin levels, enabling them to use up more fat during the exercise session (2).

  • What Should You Eat After Cardio At Night?

Are you wondering what to eat after a cardio workout at night? If you are doing cardio in the evening, you should eat after the workout to replenish the glycogen stores and ensure you do not sleep on an empty stomach. There should be a balance between eating for energy restoration and eating only enough for the night. According to Explore Health, examples of foods you can eat after cardio in the evening include egg salad, chilled shrimp with guacamole, and salmon with vegetables because they have the right amount of lean protein and healthy fats (7).

Weight Loss According To The Age

Conclusion

Cardio is an excellent way to lose weight, maintain a physically fit body, and improve your overall well-being. However, you should know what to eat after cardio and before the exercise for you to reap maximum benefits from your workout session. Remember, what works for others may not necessarily work for you; therefore, consult your doctor and nutritionist before trying any diet. These experts will also help you tailor-make the perfect meal plan just for you.

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DISCLAIMER: 

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES:

  1. American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids (2018, heart.org)
  2. Can I Work Out On an Empty Stomach? (n.d, webmd.com)
  3. Effects of aerobic training on heart rate (2003, scielo.br)
  4. Exercising before breakfast may be most healthful choice (2019, medicalnewstoday)
  5. Physical Activity – Statistics & Facts (2021, statista.com)
  6. The (Many) Benefits of a Cardio Workout (2020, health.clevelandclinic.org)
  7. What to Eat After a Late-Night Workout (2020, health.com)
  8. What to Eat Before and After Every Kind of Workout (2016, health.com)
Jedidah Tabalia
Jedidah Tabalia
K. Fleming
K. Fleming

I am a U.S. educated and trained Registered Dietitian (MS, RD, CNSC) with clinical and international development experience. I have experience conducting systematic reviews and evaluating the scientific literature both as a graduate student and later to inform my own evidence-based practice as an RD. I am currently based in Lusaka, Zambia after my Peace Corps service was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and looking for some meaningful work to do as I figure out next steps. This would be my first freelance project, but I am a diligent worker and quite used to independent and self-motivated work.

Kristen Fleming, MS, RD, CNSC

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