Health-conscious individuals can spend a lot of time planning and scheduling their workouts to get the greatest possible benefit. But an intense workout also requires focusing on your post-training nutritional needs, which includes when and what to eat to replenish your body’s energy stores, while also supplying the nutrients to rebuild and repair damaged tissue. Several studies have shown that adding foods in the right combination within an hour or so following exercise will promote a positive response by reducing muscle protein breakdown (Aragon and Schoenfeld, 2013). Even if you’ve eaten earlier in the day, a small post-workout snack balanced with protein and carbohydrates may help enhance muscle repair and recovery.
Effective Post-workout Nutrition
When considering a post-workout meal or snack, the timing and content can vary depending on personal preferences, tolerance and individual constraints (SCAN, 2010). It’s best to experiment and make adjustments that take into account the intensity of the workout, goal of training (e.g., to build muscle, lose weight) and feasibility of eating an appropriate meal. As a general rule, you want to aim to balance proteins and carbohydrates, while avoiding excessive amounts of fat and high-calorie processed foods.
Here are some good post-workout meals/snacks ideas:
-Fat-free Greek yogurt topped with fruit
-Graham crackers with peanut butter
-Low-fat chocolate milk
-Stir fry with grilled chicken, vegetables and brown rice
-Breakfast burrito on whole-wheat tortilla with scrambled egg whites, beans, low-fat cheese and salsa
Some people find it difficult to eat right after exercising due to diminished appetite. In those instances, it may be helpful to incorporate more liquid foods (verses solid) as they are typically tolerated more easily.
In many of the studies on post-workout nutrition, protein has been identified as having the biggest impact on recovery time and muscle repair. Carbohydrates on the other hand aren’t directly involved with exercise recovery, but are instead associated with endurance and energy by restoring glycogen levels following strenuous activity (Aragon and Schoenfeld, 2013).
Proteins are comprised of various amino acid groups and one of those in particular, known as L-carnitine, is cited in research data as a targeted intervention to address the actual mechanical damage within muscle tissue following a workout (Connolly, 2003).Keep in mind that although there are generalized rules to follow for aiding recovery, ideal nutritional intake should be personalized. Tracking your workout efforts, your meals and your energy levels will give you an idea of the right balance for your individual needs.
Beyond the Post-workout Meal
The primary goals of most physical activity are to improve an individual’s health and foster the increase or maintenance of muscle tissue. To get the most out of your workout, you’ll need a variety of nutrients that enhance the body’s ability to react and respond to changes. In addition to the right foods, proper hydration to replace depleted electrolytes is critical. Although individual fluid requirements vary, it’s best to stay well-hydrated before, during and after workouts:
-17-20 ounces of water two hours prior to exercise
-7-10 ounces of fluid every 10 -20 minutes during exercise
-16-24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost after exercise
As the intensity and duration of your workouts increase, so does your need for replenishing electrolytes lost through sweat. Therefore, you may want to consider utilizing a thirst-quenching sports drink for a portion of your fluid replenishment for super-intense workouts or those lasting greater than 60 minutes. In addition to replenishing fluids, this practice will help keep your body functioning as designed and contribute to the overall success of your workout efforts.