After a long, tough workout, the body must combat the stresses of intense exercise by rebuilding new muscle proteins and replenishing energy stores. Both rest and nutrition are important for recovering properly from hard physical activity, but lets focus on nutrition. Why is post-workout nutrition particularly important, you might ask? Well, quickly consuming just the right nutrients within an hour after strenuous exercise can have a huge impact on how fast and how well your body recovers…and thus how well you perform during your next workout. Keep in mind that post-workout nutrition is more important after harder exercise, such as a 45 min (or longer) cardio session or an hour of hard weight lifting. For example, a recovery meal is going to be more important for the person who just ran 6 miles than the person who walked briskly for 30 minutes or did a yoga class (not that the latter two aren’t great choices for physical activity!).
The major goals of recovery nutrition include:
– replenish glycogen (fuel) in your muscles
– rebuild the proteins in your muscles
– reduce damage to your muscles and prevent illness
So what should you eat? The optimal recovery meal should contain a fairly large amount of carbohydrate, a modest amount of protein, and very little fat. The protein is used for repairing and rebuilding your muscles, while the carbohydrate is essential for replenishing muscles with glycogen (energy stores) and accelerating muscle protein synthesis. Since fat has a tendency to slow gastric emptying (thus slowing the digestive process that helps deliver energy to your muscles), it’s best not to consume much fat in the hour immediately after you work out.
– whole grain cereal with low-fat or skim milk
– fruit with low-fat or non-fat yogurt, or cottage cheese
– whole wheat bagel with reduced fat cream cheese
– turkey sandwich on whole grain bread
– carrots/other veggies with 2 tbsp hummus
Not hungry within the first hour after a workout? Well, don’t fret – if it’s too hard to make yourself eat something, you can drink a glass of milk, a fruit smoothie, or a sports drink. The great thing about recovery drinks is that they can nourish and rehydrate at the same time. Another benefit of these drinks is that your body will absorb them faster than solid foods, so the nutrients they contain will reach your muscles quickly to begin the recovery process.
A final tip that can aid in post-workout recovery – get plenty of sleep! Catching enough zZz’s on a regular basis is invaluable to proper recovery and to your general health.