Whether you’ve set a new personal record in weights or you’ve just run a 5K, it’s important to replenish and recharge your body when you’re done. Such is the principle of recovery nutrition – an essential part of training and improving your workout performance that goes beyond just drinking water or eating a banana. Recovery nutrition involves choosing the right foods and drinks to replace both the energy and the fluids lost during exercise. Proper recovery nutrition also can repair the muscles you’ve worked, prevent injuries and enable your body to come back even stronger the next time you hit the gym.
Registered dietitian Heather Pierce with the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center says when you’ve had a tough workout, your muscle cells will crave more of the nutrients you’ve burned. “When you are active for an hour or more, good nutrition will play a very important role in your recovery,” she said. “Within 30 or 45 minutes of finishing your workout, you should find a ‘recovery snack.’ This should be done in a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. The carbohydrates will replace the fuel you’ve just burned, while the protein will get to work on repairing your muscles. People often assume protein should be the focus of recovery, but research shows more carbohydrates are needed, hence the 3:1 ratio,” she explained. “Some examples of recovery snacks include a medium-sized banana and one tablespoon of peanut butter, or simply a 12-ounce glass of 1 percent chocolate milk. Just remember to combine both carbohydrates and protein, and shoot for a snack between 200-300 calories,” she added.
While some choose to use supplements with their workout regimen, Pierce says a ‘food-first’ mentality is both cheaper and provides a nutrition profile that will better suit the general exerciser. “Let’s say you expend 500 calories during your workout and then drink a protein shake afterward,” she said. “A pretty common combination involves skim milk, two scoops of protein powder, half of a banana and a tablespoon of peanut butter. Athletes may feel the need to incorporate the supplement, but the cost can really add up,” she said. “By contrast, a simple banana split shake using skim milk, half of a banana, a half cup of strawberries, two tablespoons of Ovaltine and ice has less than half of the calories, none of the fat, is cheaper, and includes a better balance of carbohydrates and protein.”
When it comes to rehydrating after your workout, Pierce says focus on electrolytes. “We lose a lot of fluids and minerals when we sweat, so it’s important to recoup those losses by staying hydrated. Water should be your first choice, but if you are active longer than an hour, you could choose a sports drink to replenish sodium and potassium, as well as provide a carbohydrate source to aid in replenishing muscle glycogen. You also can try to eat watery foods, such as watermelon or grapes,” she explained. “It’s also important to hydrate before and during your workout, as well,” she added.
But perhaps most importantly, don’t wait to eat that recovery meal or snack. “You may not feel like eating a meal or drinking a shake right after a really tough workout, but doing so can make you feel better and will help your body be better prepared for next time,” Pierce said. “The goal of working out is to become stronger and feel better. Ignoring your body’s need to recover the carbohydrates, protein and fluids you’ve consumed can have a negative impact on the whole process. Recovery nutrition is a small habit that can lead to a huge impact on your overall performance,” she added.