You've just finished a long grueling workout and all you can think about is taking a hot shower followed by a well-deserved nap. But first, you plan on reaching for that recovery drink you mixed up before your workout. While processed recovery drinks, chocolate milk, and the like may be convenient and effective, some of the best nutrients for post-workout recovery should come in the form of whole foods.
Registered Dietician Christine Marquette, from Marquette Nutrition and Fitness in Austin, Texas, recommends recovery meals made from as many whole foods as possible to maximize nutrient absorption and benefits. “Remember,” she says, “There is a 30 to 60 minute window for replacing glycogen stores right after a long workout. That's when it's best to eat high glycemic index carbs.” Of course, it's also helpful to eat 10 to 20 grams of protein shortly thereafter as well.
Here are five categories of ingredients that can be mixed to make convenient quick meals after a long training session. Eating these whole foods after a workout will help to reduce inflammation, replace glycogen stores for future workouts, and repair muscle damage:
High glycemic whole food carbohydrates like rice, potatoes, watermelon and bagels. More than likely, these glycogen stores will need to be topped off for the next training session so that you are, once again, starting your workouts on a full tank of high-quality fuel.
Marquette recommends approximately 10 to 20 grams of high quality lean protein following your workouts. For instance, one cup of black beans provides about 15 grams of protein, plus another 40 grams of carbohydrates and 15 grams of fiber. Black beans also provide antioxidants that help repair muscle damage. Another source of quality protein may include nut butters, such as almond butter, sunflower seed butter and more.
Mixed berries are another wonderful whole food recovery option. They not only have a moderate carbohydrate count, but are also high in antioxidants and vitamins as well.
Mixed salad greens are high in antioxidants and fiber. Also, many dark leafy greens are high in protein and calcium as well. The calcium has bone building properties and the fiber has natural cholesterol lowering benefits.
Omega 3 fats are also extremely beneficial to healthy recovery and reduced inflammation. In addition, they also may help lower cholesterol and support heart health. Convenient sources of whole foods-based omega 3 fats include chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and ground flax.
Most athletes pack plenty of food during their long workouts, but don't consider the importance of refueling their bodies after a vigorous training session. Mix and match some of the above ingredients to make the most of your post-workout recovery. Simple post-workout meals may include a sandwich or bagel with lean protein and spinach, a hearty mixed green salad with protein, mixed berries and omega-3s, or even a whole foods smoothie with kale, mixed berries, seeds and protein powder. Your body will thank you when you prepare for the next training session.
Carrie Barrett is a USAT Level 1 Certified Coach and freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. Her articles have appeared on Lavamagazine.com, Livestrong.com, Runner Triathlete News, Inside Texas Running, and the triathlon anthology, The Meaning of Tri. Barrett is also a member of Erin Baker's National Triathlon Team. For more information on her coaching, speaking and writing, visit fomotraining.com.