4 Nutrition Tips for Better Exercise Recovery
It’s often touted that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” But if you frequently like to work up a sweat, the meal or snack you eat after a workout should be thought of just as carefully.
Shortly after a spirited exercise session your weary muscles are primed for the nutrients they need to kickstart recovery. Give them what they crave and you’ll be set up for more lively workouts in the days to come. Forgo proper nutrition, however, and it’s likely you won’t realize all of the fitness gains that are hoped for. Here’s what should be on your plate to recover like a champ.
Fuel your muscles with carbs
Think of carbohydrates as the premium fuel for working muscles. They’re what drive you during higher intensity efforts. During exercise, particularly endurance type of workouts like running, cycling and swimming, your carbohydrate stores will start to become depleted to meet energy needs. That means once you cross the finish line you may very well have a fraction of the carbohydrate stores that you started with. Post-workout nutrition should include a healthy helping of carbs to replenish your energy reserves. Excellent nutritious options include whole grains such as whole wheat pasta and quinoa, legumes, potatoes, granola, millet, fresh fruits, and dried fruits like Montmorency tart cherries.
Add protein post-workout
During a workout, your body breaks down muscle fibers as well as carbohydrate stores. Following exercise, your body also needs a dose of dietary protein to help encourage muscle repair so your body can get stronger and fitter overall. It’s true that weight lifting will likely bring about larger amounts of muscle damage, but even endurance type of outings like running and mountain biking can place your muscles under a certain degree of stress. You can get your fill of post-workout protein from meats like chicken and fish, yogurt, eggs, tofu, seeds, nuts, beans and various protein powders blended into smoothies.
Reduce inflammation with antioxidants
When you work up a sweat, your body takes in and uses up more oxygen to generate the energy needed to keep up the pace. But a side-effect of all this oxygen processing is the increase in the production of what are known as free-radicals – compounds that bounce around the body damaging any cells that lay in their wake. It’s thought that high amounts of free-radical cell damage can increase inflammation that, in turn, hinders exercise recovery. So it’s a good idea that your post-workout menu also includes foods rich in antioxidants, which are chemicals that can neutralize free-radicals. Among the foods that include antioxidants in spades are whole grains, vegetables and colorful fruits including Montmorency tart cherries. Studies have found that naturally occurring potent antioxidants in tart cherries, including anthocyanins, may help reduce strength loss and aid recovery after extensive exercise.
Don’t forget to hydrate
Don’t overlook the importance of post-workout hydration. Sweaty exercise sessions can bring about a significant loss of fluids, so it’s essential that liquids are consumed during and after a workout. Fluids can come in the form of drinks such as water, milk, iced tea and Montmorency tart juice, but also from water-rich fruits including watermelon, oranges and frozen tart cherries, which are available year-round and make a powerful addition to post-exercise smoothies.