Post-Workout Recovery Through Nutrition
By Manuel Villacorta, RD
We always take the time to pat ourselves on the back after a workout, but not many take the time to recover from one. One benefit of recovering is to prevent symptoms of overtraining which result when the body starts to break down as a result of too much exercise and not enough food. Another reason people should recover after exercise is to prevent the body from breaking down muscle. Not only is the thought of losing muscle sort of scary, but when you lose muscle, you also lower your resting metabolic rate. To put it simply, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn even at rest. Therefore, conserving as much muscle--or lean body mass--as possible is important. The best way to do that is through proper nutrition.
For recovery, it is optimal to consume about 20 grams of protein after exercise. This is why most protein shakes and bars you see contain 20 grams of protein. This can typically be found in one scoop of whey protein powder. An optimal protein shake for recovery contains a mixture of both protein and carbs.
Carbohydrates are also equally important to have for recovery. When you exercise you burn through a large portion of the glucose in your bloodstream as well as glycogen. Glycogen is the stored form of energy that the body keeps in your muscles and liver. To replete these stores to use for energy for activities outside of exercise, it is advised to eat high-quality carbohydrates. This means avoiding carbs that are refined and with excess added sugar. Good sources of recovery carbs would be brown rice, quinoa, berries and other fruits and vegetables. One fruit in particular of note for recovery is Montmorency cherries, especially their juice.
Fat is also an option after a workout, but be it comes from unsaturated sources such as avocados, nuts and seeds. As mentioned before, having a blend of all macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat), with an emphasis on protein and carbohydrates, is an ideal post-workout meal. If choose to go with a shake, throwing in some whey protein along with chia seeds make for a solid recovery drink with some healthy fats. Chia seeds not only contain omega-3s, but come in many different forms for consumption.
Nourishing the body is always a priority, but it is particularly important after a workout. If you choose to take a recovery supplement, that’s completely your choice. However, the recovery you get from food has about the same effects. Exercise is important, but what you eat after exercise is just as important.