When it comes to cardio vs. strength training, I've always sided with the latter (and sometimes attempt to avoid the former at all costs). A few months ago, I started a rigorous weightlifting program that has me in the gym six days a week, sometimes twice a day. I learned pretty quickly that what you eat after you lift weights is vastly different than something you would eat after going for a long run.
Your body is in need of protein and complex carbs after you lift weights, which will help build lean muscle mass and "stimulate the release of fat-burning hormones," according to Dr. Luiza Petre, board-certified cardiologist and weight-management specialist. Dr. Petre also said your body will probably crave some extra calories if you're doing strength training regularly — and that is something I always find to be true.
I usually lift weights in the morning before work. It allows me to start off my day feeling like a total badass and it just works best for my schedule. That means I have to be very strategic with what my breakfast is, because without a full meal, my muscles won't be able to recover fully, which means my next session won't be as effective (and it also means I'll be impossibly cranky).
I've experimented with all sorts of post-workout breakfasts, from protein shakes to whole-grain bowls, and I can say without a doubt that my favorite meal after weightlifting consists of the following:
I know this may sound like a lot of food, but trust me, you need this much grub after you've just squatted and deadlifted your ass off. There are some mornings, when I've had a particularly big lift, that I'll even add a sliced apple with some sunflower seed butter to the mix.
I generally use the Organic Tofu from Trader Joe's, which has eight grams of protein per serving. I make myself two servings, which equals 16 grams of plant-based protein, along with mushrooms, bell peppers, and spinach. The sprouted bread I use from Silver Hills Bakery has 18 grams of carbs, six grams of protein, and four grams of fiber.
Put that all together and I'm getting 24 grams of protein and 18 grams of carbs in one tasty meal. That's a pretty fantastic ratio to put into your system after having a tough workout. It becomes the perfect trifecta of nutrition when you consider the few slices of avocado and the spoonful of hemp seeds I put on my toast. That adds some healthy fats and a few extra grams of protein as well.
This meal keeps me feeling full all the way to lunch, and it gives me all the energy I need to recover from my workout. If you're not vegan, you can certainly substitute the tofu for eggs, which are also a great source of protein. Most importantly, though, you should never be afraid to eat a full, healthy meal after you lift weights. You need the protein and carbs in order to grow your muscles as well as shed fat (if that's what you're going for!).