Afterward, the reward for a hard weekend effort is gathering with training buds for a post-workout chow fest--made all the more tastier 'cause you've worked for it.
But you haven't just earned that meal. You need it. After a long endurance session much of your body's glycogen stores, which feed your muscles, have been tapped. Without proper refueling, future workouts suffer.
But what should you eat? Our weekend training menu spells it out for you.
The best approach after a long workout is a 3-1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, says Liz Applegate, Ph.D., a nutritionist with the University of California at Davis. A meal of about 75 grams of carbohydrates and 25 of protein--a large glass of low-fat chocolate milk and a whole grain bagel topped with peanut butter and a banana, for instance--will do the trick.
Without carbs you're running on fumes. Carbohydrates replenish glycogen stored in the muscle. Muscle glycogen provides the fuel necessary to maintain the intensity needed for long, tough workouts.
To restore it, you need to eat high-carbohydrate foods within the first 30 to 60 minutes after a workout, when your body is poised to process glycogen rapidly. The body continues hoarding glycogen, though not as rapidly, for up to five hours after the workout.
If you don't or can't eat immediately after a workout, Applegate recommends getting in something within two hours, even if it's just a sports drink or a glass of chocolate milk. Then eat a carb-rich meal as soon as possible after that.
You'll get the biggest payoff from healthy, energy-sustaining carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits and vegetables. And, other than a dusting of powdered sugar on pancakes or a spoonful of chocolate syrup in milk, avoid nutrient-poor sugar, which will saddle you with calories but little else.
More: Why Are Carbs Important?
Adding protein to carbohydrates helps extend energy and rebuilds muscle broken down in training. High-quality proteins like eggs, tuna and turkey promote muscle development and overall health (protein impacts everything from metabolism to hair growth). Eggs, tuna and turkey are also low in saturated fat, contain most or all of the essential amino acids, and provide a host of vitamins and minerals.
Post-workout try a three-egg omelet loaded with vegetables and low-fat cheese. And, when possible, choose egg whites. A single yolk contains two-thirds the recommended daily intake of cholesterol.