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Foods For Recovery

by Lauren Larson MS, RDN June 24, 2015

Foods For Recovery

Have you ever used a long workout as an excuse to hit up your local donut shop, pizza place, breakfast spot, or fast food joint afterwards? I know I’m guilty. While post-workout may be an appropriate time to have these types of foods (if you are going to have them), eating more healthful foods after your workout will help you get the most out of your training.

After a workout your body is “insulin sensitive,” meaning that it’s primed and ready to respond to the action of insulin. Recall that insulin is a storage hormone, and following a workout your body is ready to absorb the nutrients it needs to replace.

Eating carbs triggers the body to release insulin, which in combination with heightened post-workout insulin sensitivity, can help reload the glycogen stores you just used for energy during your workout. Reloading these energy stores is like filling up the gas tank for your next workout. Little or no gas in the tank means you may not feel great at your next workout.

For workouts lasting longer than an hour, aim to eat good quality carbohydrates within 15-60 minutes after the workout.  Great options include:

  • Banana
  • Medium Roasted Sweet Potato
  • Cooked Oatmeal
  • Smoothie Made with Fruit and Yogurt or Milk/Milk Alternative

And again, sooner rather than later is a good rule for post-workout nutrient timing. For workouts lasting less than an hour, this is less critical. Instead, just make sure to eat some carbs at the next meal or snack.

Protein is the next most important nutrient when it comes to recovery. Protein contains amino acids that help repair broken down muscle. There is one specific amino acid in particular, leucine, which has been shown to trigger muscle protein synthesis more so than other amino acids.

Leucine is found primarily in dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese) and animal protein (chicken, beef, egg), but it can also be found in vegan sources such as quinoa and beans.

Within an hour of a long (60 minutes or more) workout, or at your next meal, aim to consume a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, depending on the intensity level and what works for you. This works out to about 0.4-0.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight and 20 grams of protein. This optimum ratio has been proven to promote optimum recovery and muscle growth. Great options include:

  • Bowl of Oatmeal
  • Brown Rice, or a Roasted Sweet Potato Topped with 2 Eggs Cooked To Your Liking
  • Sandwich On Whole Grain Bread Topped With 2-3 ounces of Deli Meat And Veggies Served With A Piece Of Fruit
  • Big Fruit-based Smoothie Made With Protein Powder And Yogurt or Milk/Milk Alternative,
  • Whole Grain Tortilla Spread With Peanut Butter, Topped With Banana, and Folded In Half Like A Quesadilla
  • Plain Yogurt Mixed With Fruit And Granola

Plain water might be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of hydration, however it alone is not the best for rehydrating post workout. Instead of drinking water alone, drink water with foods that contain sodium, chloride, and other minerals/electrolytes to promote optimal rehydration. Sodium and chloride come from table salt and other minerals can be found in foods like vegetables, dairy products, meat, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

Making a good quality, healthful, mixed meal with some table salt sprinkled on top should definitely help cover your bases. Another option would be to drink water with an electrolyte solution. If you’re not sure how much water you should drink after a workout, weigh yourself before and afterwards, and drink 16-24 ounces of water for every pound lost.

Good quality carbs, protein, water, electrolytes and timing. Keep these things in mind for optimum recovery the next time you’re tempted to stop at a fast food joint after a workout.

Lauren Larson MS, RDN
Lauren Larson MS, RDN


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