How soon should you eat after a cardio workout?

If you did less than an hour of cardio at a low or moderate intensity, you probably did not deplete all of your muscle’s energy stores. Energy is stored in the muscle as glycogen, a chain of sugar molecules. Your body uses fat and sugar to fuel aerobic exercise. If you haven’t eaten or have done a longer and/or more intense cardio workout, be sure to eat within 45 to 60 minutes to restore muscle glycogen. This is primarily important for those who will be exercising again soon.

Here are the current recommendations from a study published in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition: 

  • If you fasted before you trained, you should consume a combination of protein and carbohydrates shortly after your workout to promote muscle growth. If you haven’t eaten for four to six hours before a workout, you may also benefit from a protein- and carbohydrate-rich meal immediately after a workout.
  • If you ate one to two hours preworkout, that meal may be sufficient to promote muscle building even after exercise. This is because the muscle-building amino acids broken down from your food remain in the bloodstream for up to two hours after eating. 

With this in mind, here’s what you should eat after different cardio workouts.

A carbohydrate/protein ratio of 3:1 in a post-workout meal is appropriate for most people.

Protein will help rebuild muscles, while carbohydrates will replace muscle glycogen stores. This will replenish your energy.

What you should eat after cardio depends on several factors, including the intensity and duration of your session. The most important factor is to listen to your body. The above recommendations are not steadfast rules, but guidelines to follow.

If you’re hungry after any workout, choose a nutritious, well-balanced small meal to refuel and replenish your body.

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