One important part of a successful exercise regimen is post-workout nutrition. What you eat after a grueling and sweaty exercise session is responsible for restoring the body’s energy and nutrients. During exercise, the body breaks down muscle protein structures and glycogen. You also lose a lot of water through sweat. Therefore, the key to any great post workout meal-plan revolves around replenishing glycogen levels, re-hydrating the body and providing essential nutrients that aid tissue repair. You should avoid snacks and foods that are high in fat content and empty calories since they only negate all the hard work of your exercise efforts. Instead, opt for a nutritious post-workout meal plan that helps the body to recover. To help you get started, here are some suggestions for top 5 post-workout recovery foods and beverages.
1. Fruit Smoothie with Protein Base
A fruit smoothie will not only hydrate the body after a workout, it also allows you to pack plenty of nutrients in a single beverage. Another advantage about liquid meals is that they are quick to digest and absorb. A smoothie recipe that combines carbohydrates and protein provides the primary food sources required after a workout. Try blending frozen fruit with Greek yogurt, whey protein shake, or soy milk. You can also add a natural sweetener for a better flavour.
2. Dried Fruits and Nuts
If you don’t have the time to whoop up a full meal after your workouts, dried fruits and nuts are a convenient snacking option with plenty of beneficial nutrients. Dried fruits will provide a healthy dose of simple carbohydrates plus you will get a quick injection of protein from the nuts.
3. Grilled Chicken Mixed with Veggies
When your body is in recovery mode, you will need a good supply of proteins and carbohydrates. A dish containing grilled chicken and vegetables makes a healthy full meal to help your body recover. Grilled chicken will nourish the body with low-fat lean protein to repair muscle tissue while the vegetables shall ensure you get complex carbohydrates to replenish your muscle glycogen.
4. Tofu Veggie Scramble
If you are a vegan, it is still possible to get a health protein and carbohydrate meal for post workout recovery. Tofu scrambled with spinach, green onions, sweet corn, roasted potatoes and red peppers makes a colourful and nutrient rich dish that you can whoop up for your main meal after hitting the gym, track or treadmill. You can add a dash of garlic for some flavour to your tofu veggie scramble.
5. Chocolate Milk
This fantastic recovery drink contains everything you need after a workout. It has carbs and proteins for muscle recovery, water to replace fluids lost through sweat along with electrolytes like sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Chocolate milk is very easy to prepare since there are whey protein powders that come fortified with this flavour. All you need to do is take a scoop of your favourite whey chocolate powder, add to milk and mix thoroughly with a shaker bottle. You can even take this convenient drink with you to the gym and re-hydrate immediately after a workout.
When Should You Eat After a Workout?
Foods and drinks have different time frames for consumption after a workout. For example, fluids can be taken during and even immediately after a workout in order to keep hydration levels up throughout the exercise session. Nutrition experts recommend snacking 30 minutes after a workout. Snacks can have 0.5 to 0.7 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. A full meal is best taken within two hours of your workout to ensure a fast recovery.
Before exercising, it is important to fuel your body for the work that it is about to do. Eating too little or not at all before a workout will likely lead to quick fatigue and weakness due to low blood glucose. On the other hand, consuming too much food before exercise may cause stomach discomfort, nausea or cramping. The foods you choose to consume is just as important as eating pre-workout. The timing of meals as well can affect energy levels during exercise.
Pre-Workout Nutrition Facts
A good pre-workout meal plan should incorporate protein rich foods with carbohydrates. Of course, carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of energy. These macro-nutrients can be further broken down into two groups – complex carbs and simple sugars. The type of carbs to eat before an exercise session largely depends on the timing of a meal. Generally, food sources with simple sugars digest quickly and provide the body with fast acting glucose. For this reason, they make good snacks, which you can eat 30 minutes to an hour before exercise. On the other hand, complex or low GI carbohydrates are best eaten at least 3 hours before workouts since they take longer to digest. On the plus side, such carbohydrates will give the body a slow release of energy, allowing you to exercise for longer without experiencing total fatigue in the middle of your workout.
Proteins consumed pre-workout help to prevent muscle catabolism during the exercise session. Although high in calories, fats should be avoided before workouts since they metabolize slowly. In fact, they can leave you feeling sluggish and heavy.
Top 4 Pre-Workout Foods
Now that you know what nutrients are most beneficial to the body before exercise, the next step that follows is coming up with a meal plan. Here are a few suggestions for top 4 foods to eat before a workout. Take note also of the recommended meal timing for the various foods.
- Chicken, Brown Rice and Leafy Greens
This dish will fully nourish your body if taken 3-hours before you hit the gym, running track or aerobics class. A meal like this will provide you with low-fat protein from the lean chicken to promote muscle anabolism as well as a slow release of energy from leafy greens and the brown rice.
Eggs are great pre-workout foods for bodybuilders. Whether you like them fried, scrambled or boiled, they are rich in protein. As a result, eggs supply the body with branched chain amino acids, which prevent muscle breakdown in case glycogen reserves run out as you exercise. What’s more, you can control the fat and cholesterol content by removing the egg yolk. Eggs should be consumed 2-3 hours before your workouts to ensure ample digestion time.
- Greek Yogurt and Dried Fruit
Dried fruits and yogurt can be consumed 1-1.5 hours before exercise to provide the body with a quick source of simple sugars and protein. For the best results, opt for low-fat, Greek yogurt, which tends to have the highest protein content.
Sometimes it can be hard to find time for whooping up a meal or even wholesome snack before heading out to the gym or running trail. In such cases, a quick dose of carbohydrates is your best bet to invigorate the body before the workout. Apples are healthy energizing foods that will boost your glucose levels when consumed even 30-40 minutes before a workout.
Lastly, remember to drink enough water before your workouts to avoid dehydration. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and loss of coordination, which may increase risk of injuries during exercise. Try drinking 500-600ml of water an hour before workouts and at least 200-300ml every 20-30 minutes of exercise.