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When it comes to working out, the most important meal you eat is the one you have after you exercise.
You see, for about an hour after your workout, there's a window of opportunity when your muscles are literally starving for nutrients. We call this the golden hour. And the meal you eat at this time is the most important for building muscle and replenishing energy sources.
The first thing your body needs is a nice fresh supply of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are used by your body for making muscles, hormones, neurotransmitters, bones and all sorts of other important things. Exercise depletes critical amino acids such as glutamine, valine, isoleucine and leucine–and the way you replenish your body's supply is with protein. That means meat, chicken, eggs, fish or whey protein powder (even soy protein powder, though I don't like that as much as whey).
The second thing you need is some carbohydrates. Exercise draws upon your body's stores of glycogen, which is the storage form of sugar. Glycogen waits in the liver and the muscles for a signal that sugar is needed: "Hey, she's exercising, let's give her some fuel!" Your body can hold about 1,800 calories of sugar as glycogen, which is plenty to fuel any workout short of a marathon, but athletes do best when their glycogen stores are full, so unless you are on a carb-restricted diet, some slow-burning carbs after working out is a good idea. (Hint: The best carbs are oatmeal, brown rice, grains like quinoa or amaranth, and all vegetables and fruits).
Your muscles need protein for repair and growth, and your body needs some carbs to replenish its glycogen stores. Truth be told, after a hard workout your body is like the plant in Little Shop of Horrors: It's crying "Feed me!" and it won't take no for an answer. Remember, right before exercise you have to consider the time it takes to digest food, so you need to go light. But post-workout is the ideal time to have a full meal. So what's the best meal, or combination of foods, to have post-workout? NEXT: Five great post workout meals