One of the most common questions I get asked as a dietitian-nutritionist is what should I eat after my workouts. My more than common response is…well it depends. Variables of intensity, type, duration, and environment determine what post workout fuel is the best fit. No worries in needing to hire a sports nutritionist to figure this out, as there are common principles to recovering after a workout that one should follow in order to optimize recovery. Below is a list of principles and questions to keep on the ready next time you head out the gym after a training session.
- Form. Simply put solid food takes longer to digest as it needs to travel through the gastrointestinal tract to reach the main site of most nutrient absorption, the small intestine. Solid food is chewed, swallowed, broken down in the esophagus, broken down further in the stomach, and trudges through the intestine to be absorbed. Along that path enzymes break down carbs and protein to a almost liquid state. Drinking your recovery foods, a la shake form, streamlines the process as it is already in a easier to digest state.
- Content. Here is where we can customize our meals to the many variables mentioned. Many scenarios can play out here. Long workout sessions lasting 2 hours or more would dictate a 3:1 or 4:1 carbs to protein ratio of meal composition. The longer you workout, the more energy you are burning, the more you need to put back. Carbs are your most efficient form of energy in terms of breakdown and absorption. Carbs of choice: simple carbs such as fruit or honey. Simple = easy to digest. Easy to digest translates to low fiber and low fat containing foods. A metabolic window exist where our body’s are primed to take in food calories and assimilate it optimally into our cells and tissues. Think of it like a descending line graph where right after exercise the body is “most ready” to take in calories and nutrients, as time goes on the body becomes impatient as it is in a desperate search to replace the energy it lost. It begins to break down muscle tissue (and some fat) for energy, robbing you of your “gainz!” Protein comes in as your building blocks of lean tissue. We stress the muscles from training and needs sufficient protein to recovery. In general, 20-30 g of protein is optimal to achieve the “rebuilding’ of stressed muscle tissue after exercise (especially after a rather intense lifting session). The best proteins tend to be milk based proteins, but composition vegan style proteins such as pea/hemp/spirulina shows to be as efficient in rebuilding muscle tissue as their cow based counter parts.
- Content (Part 2). The body becomes rather stressed after exercise. This is a good stress that pushes the body to become stronger. Your strength improves, your heart beat gets stronger, your lungs are able to use oxygen more efficiently. Your body does need some help. It needs nutrients. It needs vitamins and minerals. The main two are vitamin C, and E. They are your main antioxidants that help your body recover from stress (exercise in this case). Citrus fruit, peppers, kiwi are high in vitamin C. Avocados, dark leafy greens, and sunflower seeds/butter are high in vitamin E. Other great additions include spinach, blueberries, watermelon, and pineapples. Each has its own special nutrients that help the body recovery faster. Spinach is rich in vitamin E and folate that aid in cell repair and function. Pineapples have bromelain aids in muscle tissue repair and also helps digestion in the stomach by breaking down protein. Citrulline in watermelons transforms in L-Arginine which is a precursor to nitric oxide that helps blood vessel “pump” nutrients faster.
Smoothies and shakes are a fun and easy way to create super food blends to speed your recovery. Try out different combinations to your taste buds, and training sessions. You can even sip them in-between training sessions for a healthy burst of energy and to begin the recovery process. Remember that recovery is a 24hr process, so be sure to pack all your meals with healthy starchy vegetables (broccoli, squash, beans, carrots, sweet potatoes), enough protein to recover stressed muscles, and healthy fats around training sessions.