Eat now, exercise later by Elizabeth Brown, MS, RD

Eat right after exercise for optimal energy

When you hear the theme song from Rocky what images does it conjure?

I see the Philadelphia art museum steps which I ran up at the beginning, but not at the end of the Philadelphia marathon. I see a thick grey sweat suit not ideal for exercise. And I see a glass full of raw eggs which are absolutely not the best pre or post workout meal. Eggs must be cooked to destroy harmful bacteria and to denature the protein so the essential amino acids can be used appropriately to build, replace and repair where needed.

You don’t have to train like Rocky to be an athlete although stair climbing is a great cardio workout.

Whether you’re preparing for your next fight, taking an exercise class or lifting weights at the gym, to perform your best you must fuel your body.

Eat five to six small meals per day as opposed to three squares.

Eat breakfast everyday! People who lose weight and keep it off eat breakfast.

If you’re not hungry in the morning, perhaps you ate too much the night before. In one study of subjects who needed about 2,000 calories per day to maintain their weight, the subjects lost weight when they moved all of their calories to their morning meal but gained weight if they ate the 2,000 calories all in the evening.

Some people claim that if they eat breakfast, then they are hungry all day. Since when is being hungry a crime? You should be hungry all day and not ravenous in the evening when you don’t need the calories. Think of eating breakfast as putting gas in your car to take you to a destination that ends when the sun goes down.

Break the fast, fuel your engine and you will have more energy throughout the day.

To snack or not to snack, that is the question. If you’re a morning exerciser who does not eat before exercise, then it’s imperative to eat breakfast followed by a substantial snack two hours later. The first two hours after exercise are the most critical for replenishing glycogen (stored carbohydrates.) If you don’t eat enough to adequately replace glycogen, your future performance will be affected. So snack your energy back today.

How much you eat truly depends on your exercise intensity, but as a general rule, consume 1 to 1.5 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight. An easy way to determine your grams of carbohydrates is to divide your weight by 2 to 1.5. A 120 pound woman should consume about 60 to 80 grams of carbohydrates immediately after exercise (120/2 = 60 and 120/1.5= 80.) You should also have about 0.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight combined with your carbohydrates. Simply divide your weight by 4 to 5 to give you a range. That same 120 pound woman should consume 24 to 30 grams of protein after exercise.

Now the fun part, putting these principles into practice.

To count your carbs you need to know the best sources and portion sizes. Fruits, whole grains, beans and starchy vegetables are the best whole food sources. In general, 1 slice whole grain bread, 2 corn tortillas, 1/2 cup of whole grains or starchy vegetables, 1 cup vegetable juice, 1/2 cup fruit juice, 1/4 cup dried fruit, 1 cup of fresh fruit and 3/4 cup dry cereal all contain about 12 to 20 grams of carbohydrates.

Simple sugars add carbs in compact ways when needed. Some even add essential nutrients. Black strap molasses is rich in iron, calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, potassium and even some selenium with 12 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon. Protein can be found in eggs, meat, fish and poultry, seven grams per ounce, about the size of your thumb or one egg. Tofu has 12 grams protein per 6 ounces, which is half of the shelf stable package. Yogurt and dairy or soy milk have 8 grams of protein and about 12 grams of carbohydrate per cup. Whole grains contain 3 grams of protein per serving and beans have 8 grams.

Combine carbs and protein at every meal along with healthy omega-3 fats. Here is one way to assemble the perfect post-workout meal.

1 cup cooked or soaked oats or Quinoa flakes or 2 slices whole grain bread = 25 grams carbs and six grams protein
1 Tablespoon black strap molasses = 12 grams carbs
1 cup berries = 12 grams carbs
1 cup organic milk, yogurt or fresh vegetable juice = 12 grams carbs and eight grams protein (from milk or yogurt)
6 ounces tofu or 2 omega-3 eggs (cooked) or one whole egg plus two whites = 12 to 14 grams protein
If you omit the omega-3 eggs, add one tablespoon ground flax to your meal

Total = 61 grams carbs and 26 to 28 grams of protein.

With these foods you can make a shake and have an egg or tofu sandwich for a quick, post workout meal-on-the-go.


  1. Hi Elizabeth,

    I just came across your site this morning and viewed a couple of your videos so far. Great to see what you’re doing and the info you are providing!


  2. Hi Vic,

    Thanks so much for reading my blog, for your nice comments and for becoming a follower.
    I really appreciate it!