As soon as any hard training effort is finished, our bodies have work to do to repair itself from the strain of the workout. The first thing to be aware of when it comes to eating for recovery is that unless you’ve dialed in your daily routine for healthy eating (and by that we mean eating a balance of real food that provides you enough, but not too much energy), spending time worrying about your post-workout recovery meal is unneeded stress.
Instead focus on what your meals through your days and weeks look like and just enjoy your workouts.
Once you have that foundation built and if you’re a hard training athlete, then it makes sense to start dialing things in on your post-workout nutrition routines. Specifically, if you’re training twice a day or more paying attention to nutrient timing will help support muscular adaptations and getting ready for the next training session. To be clear, it doesn’t magically transform your physique or performance if you aren’t executing the foundation consistently, but it can help speed your recovery, build muscle and improve future performance.
After an intense training session or an extra-long workout (think 90 minutes or longer), the first thing an athlete is concerned with is stopping cortisol from breaking down muscle tissue and sending signals that it is time to repair. That means increasing your leucine, which is an amino acid found in protein.
Within 30 minutes of wrapping up your training session, men should have about 40g of protein and women should have about 25-35g of protein. This is especially important if you’re an athlete looking to build muscle. You need a positive protein balance to be established during recovery to make sure you have enough raw materials for protein synthesis. Once you consume the protein, you’ll have about two hours to replenish your glycogen levels from carbohydrates.
For protein, there’s no real evidence that one type of protein is superior to the other in terms of results. What matters is that it is a complete protein containing leucine. If a shake with whey or pea protein is the most doable for you, that works. If you’d prefer to have real food like egg whites or a chicken breast, by all means enjoy it. The key is to be realistic about what you can and will do. For a lot of athletes, that means protein powder in a shaker bottle that’s ready to go the moment they finish their session, so they can stop thinking about it.
For carbs, ideal solutions are the simple or starchier carbs that will bypass the liver and go straight to replenishing your muscle glycogen. Sweet potatoes, rice, oats or cluster dextrins as a supplement are all ideal for meeting this need. Avoiding fructose in fruit, which will be processed by the liver first, is ideal as the carbs intended for your muscles may get stored in your liver. The antioxidants in berries also make them a food to avoid post workout as research is now finding that antioxidants can slow muscle response rate, making them more ideal as food separate from the post workout window.
For an easy shake, try this recipe for a post-workout green smoothie:
- 1 scoop protein powder (vanilla)
- 2 cups water or nut milk (cold)
- 1/2 avocado
- 1 banana (frozen)
- 1/3 cup rolled or instant oats
- 2 cups baby Spinach
Add the ingredients to your blender and enjoy!
Overnight oats also make a great all-in one recovery meal:
- 1/2 cups oats (quick or rolled)
- 2/3 cups unsweetened almond milk
- 1 scoop chocolate or vanilla protein powder
- 1 T All natural peanut butter
- 1 tsp chia seeds
- 1 tsp maple syrup
- 1 T cocoa powder
Combine oats, almond milk, peanut butter, chia seeds, maple syrup, cocoa powder and water in a large glass container. Stir well to evenly mix. Cover and store in the fridge overnight.
That said, I have to admit my favorite recovery meals is some simple roasted sweet potatoes topped with ground turkey and a fried egg. It makes me happy every time.