Most everyone I know loves the post-workout meal. It serves as a reward for having completed a good workout, and it’s a fantastic excuse to eat something that perhaps you try to avoid most other times.
But many athletes are unsure about what to eat after a workout and typically reach for foods they know are NOT good for them, yet somehow it feels as if they’ve deserved them.
See, what is consumed after exercise is actually the most important food you eat all day. Our muscles store excess energy in the form of glycogen and protein and, when you exercise, the body burns fuel from your pre-workout meal, then it goes onto breaking down glycogen stored in muscles. Within a few hours of working out, muscle protein drops and muscle tissue begins to break down. However, within a 45-minute window, your body is the most responsive with absorbing carbohydrates and protein.
RECOVER FAST + BOOST your ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE: follow these 5 guidelines for replenishing the glycogen and repairing your depleted muscles.
1. Respect the fuel window.
In the 30-60 minutes immediately following a workout, your muscles are primed to receive fuel to start the repair process. Eat or drink your high quality recovery meal within that window. If your goal is to build muscle, eat within 30 minutes of your workout. If you’re just trying to stay in shape or shed a few pounds, you can take your time and eat within 45 minutes or an hour after your workout.
2. Choose easy to digest foods.
Your muscles need blood to deliver nutrients to them. The more of that blood is busy digesting a juicy burger — or, any solid food — the less nutrients get to your muscles. Ideally, you should get your immediate post-workout fix in liquid form or near-liquid consistency food. Some variation of this smoothie is my go to recovery drink.
3. Consume foods in a 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio; meaning for every four parts of carbohydrates, include 1 part protein.
The small amount of protein helps speed glycogen synthesis and therefore recovery.
4. Replace lost electrolytes.
When you sweat, you lose not only water, but also sodium and other important electrolytes, that transmit electrical impulses throughout your body. So you need to replace them. See my post on proper hydration.
5. Make friends with alkalizing foods, like leafy greens and other vegetables and fruits.
Vigorous exercise creates an acidic environment in your body. If you don’t neutralize the acid by what you eat, your body will leach calcium from your bones and nitrogen from your muscle tissue in order to neutralize the acidic environment. Alkalizing foods are all greens, sprouted vegetables, and certain fruits like lemons and limes also have neutralizing effect on your body. When using protein powders for your smoothies, aim for minimally-processed like hemp protein powder.