Post-Workout Nutrition: The Best Workout Recovery Foods
If you’re a regular in the gym or a pro athlete on the track, chances are you take your pre-workout nutrition seriously. While fueling up before training is 100% crucial to maximum performance, what you eat after you train is just as important. This article will detail the best workout recovery foods you should add to your diet.
After exercise, your body needs the right foods to try to rebuild and restore its glycogen stores as well as promote muscle repair. So, what’s most important when it comes to post-workout nutrition?
Most of all, you should fill up on carbs and protein after a workout1. This will help your body decrease muscle protein breakdown, restore glycogen stores and best of all, boost muscle growth and recovery.
Research suggests that while protein synthesis continues for at least 48 hours after exercise, it’s most important to get post-workout nutrition immediately, and within 2 hours afterwards2.
Let’s find out more about these two important macronutrients before discovering the best workout recovery foods to add to your diet.
Protein should be a staple in any fitness enthusiasts’ diet. As the building block for muscles in your body, it can help you grow and maintain healthy muscles and contributes to an athletic physique by:
- Reducing muscle decline1
- Providing your body with the amino acids needed to build new muscle tissue2
- Decreasing muscle soreness and fatigue3
- Preventing the loss of lean mass
- Increasing satiety and feelings of fullness so you can stop overeating4
Not sure how much protein to eat? 0.14–0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight (0.3–0.5 grams/kg) immediately after intense exercise5 is the recommended amount.
What about carbs?
Just as protein is needed to repair broken-down muscle, carbohydrates are necessary for replenishing expended energy and helping the body recharge.
They provide a quick supply of energy to your muscles and enhance the role of insulin in transporting nutrients into cells1.
However, beyond muscle contraction, carbs also fuel your brain power. If you’ve ever found yourself experiencing brain fog during workouts or are extremely low in energy, you’re probably not getting enough carbs. The following table shows how to calculate how many grams of carbohydrates are needed per pound of body weight.
|Weight in Kilograms||Carbohydrates in Grams||Daily Carbohydrate Intake|
|68 (150 lbs)||x||4||=||272 grams|
|Now calculate your own needs. Remember to divide your body weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms. Then multiply your body weight by a number of carbohydrate grams based on the time and intensity of the training. For example, an hour per day of moderate intensity exercise may warrant using 5 grams|
|Weight in Kilograms||x||Carbohydrates in Grams||=||Daily Carbohydrate Intake|
So, what are the best post-workout eats? We take a closer look and detail the ideal foods you should be choosing after your workout to help you recover quicker, build muscle, and get ready for your next gym session.
The best workout recovery foods
The key goal of your post-workout meal is to provide your body with the right nutrients needed for maximum recovery – all while helping you get the best benefits from your workout.
High in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B, potassium and selenium – plus many more important nutrients – salmon is one of the best ways to kickstart muscle recovery after an intense workout.
Wondering how? Because of salmon’s omega-3 content, it may help ease delayed onset muscle soreness, AKA DOMS1, and reduce inflammation in the body. This is crucial when it comes to getting back to training at your best. With a whopping 22-25g of protein per 3.5 ounce of salmon, you can be sure you’re getting enough to repair and rebuild your muscles2.
What’s more, the potassium in salmon can help to replace electrolytes that can be lost during training.
We know exercise heavily depletes your body’s glycogen stores. So, what’s the best way to restore your levels? Complex carbs like the sweet potato is the perfect post-workout food. Packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals – and at only 180 calories per 200g3 – the sweet potato can help rebuild your glycogen stores without any nasty crashes.
Sweet potatoes also contain antioxidants, ideal for protecting your body against harmful free radicals and inflammation1.
Sweet potato is also a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber, which are both advantageous to gut health2. Keeping your gut healthy is one sure way to maintain a healthy immune system.
Try roasting, boiling or mashing a sweet potato and it’ll sure become a favorite post-workout eat.
Protein and calcium-rich, fat-free, plain Greek yogurt contains 22 to 23 grams of protein and 8 to 11 grams of carbohydrates per 8-ounce serving3 4. This perfect balance of protein and carbs delivers you a healthy, nutritious post-workout snack that will fight muscle soreness, replenish energy levels and even improve gut health.
Greek yogurt is packed with probiotics5, the friendly bacteria that can keep you regular and decrease stomach problems. Greek yogurt may also enhance bone health, due to its rich calcium6 and protein content.
Why not pair your yogurt with berries for an antioxidant boost?
Turkey or chicken
When you’re looking to build muscle – or just trying to maintain lean mass – lean meats like turkey and chicken are great sources of protein. If you are a meat-eater, it’s important to make the best nutritious choices and choose a lean meat over fatty, salty alternatives.
Turkey and chicken are some of the best lean, high protein meats and can release energy slowly, helping you to feel fuller for longer and reducing the risk of overeating or snacking.
You’ll find around 54g of protein in a skinless, cooked chicken breast (172g)1 while 85g of non-enhanced, roasted turkey breast delivers around 24g of protein. Turkey also contains B vitamins which may help with DNA production and energy2.
High protein foods like lean chicken can help to maintain lean mass by providing the building blocks for muscle growth and helping to improve recovery after training.
Eggs are an excellent, versatile food. Packed full of protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and iron, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more nutritious food.
Packed with everything from vitamin A, folate and B12 to selenium, eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can add to your post-workout diet. Just one single boiled egg offers 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of healthy fats to protect muscle and growth and reduce inflammation to help you recover better1.
Eggs also contain one nutrient which many people don’t get enough of – choline. This nutrient plays a key role in preserving muscle, as well as producing signaling molecules in the brain2. A single egg contains more than 100 mg of this vital nutrient.
Nuts and seeds
The added star player for many breakfast bowls, nuts and seeds provide a generous dose of omega-3 fatty acids which contribute to improved bone and joint health3 as well as reduced inflammation4. Omega-3 supplements have also been linked with decreasing low mood, helping you to stay motivated and driven to smash through your weekly workout schedules5.
Nuts and seeds like walnuts, flaxseed and hazelnuts are also full of protein, fiber, vitamin E and magnesium6 – all essential to optimum wellbeing. What’s better, nuts are antioxidant powerhouses, meaning they can help combat oxidative stress by reducing free radicals7.
Nuts are great snacks on the go or added to smoothies, so stock up and dose up after your workouts.
Don’t forget: hydration is key
Drinking enough water before, during, and post-workout is ideal for maximum recovery and ensuring you’re at the top of your game for your next day’s performance.
The trouble is, many people don’t understand the role that hydration plays after exercise. In fact, keeping hydrated may be the missing link in unlocking optimal performance.
Water plays a substantial role in the process of recovery – from helping you digest important nutrients to restoring muscles damaged during training8. Many people might not know, but our muscles are actually 75% water!
Drinking water may boost muscle strength since water carries oxygen to the cells of your body, including those of your muscles. If you’re dehydrated, your muscles will be deprived of electrolytes and you may experience cramp. Staying well hydrated helps your muscles work harder and longer before they get fatigued.
If you train hard or are in an extremely hot environment, you might also need an electrolyte drink to replenish any sodium or potassium lost through sweat.
The bottom line
There’s no doubt that you need to eat good, nutrient-rich foods to be healthy and recover well from your workouts. By incorporating these best workout recovery foods into your diet, you’ll maximize training performance and may even see massive improvements in your muscle strength and growth.
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