Many experts preach that you must eat within 30 minutes, but that window is much larger and varies from person to person, says Matt Delaney, national manager of innovation for Equinox in New York City.
In general, the body is best at using food for recovery in the hours after you exercise, notes Philadelphia-based sports dietician Kelly Jones, RD, CSSD. Most people would do well to eat a three-to-one carbs-to-protein ratio within two or three, she says.
If you go without food during that period, she suggests having a snack of a similar macro makeup one hour before bed. This ensures that human growth hormone (which plays a significant role in recovery and spikes after you fall asleep) can repair the muscles as efficiently as possible.
The bottom line:
Following these rules will ultimately help you avoid injury, burnout, plateaus, and muscle loss, Jones notes. If under-fueling becomes a habit, those risks will increase.