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Post-workout nutrition: what to eat for optimum recovery

September 16th, 2022 | 9 min. read

Post-workout nutrition: what to eat for optimum recovery

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To achieve your goals in fitness, you need to not only plan your exercises but also your meals. What you eat has a huge impact on your athletic performance, how you feel, and your body composition. 

 

In fact, refueling your body with healthy, nutritious food post-workout is almost as important as the exercise itself.

 

If you do not eat correctly after exercising, especially after doing something strenuous, your energy levels drop, your recovery is hindered, and it will negatively affect how you perform the next time you exercise.

 

Paseo Club has been helping members get fit for almost 20 years. Not only are there fitness facilities and trainers, but there are also two certified nutritionists on staff available for consultation. 

 

In this article, we are going to tell you all about post-workout nutrition. By the time you are done reading it, you will know what happens in your body after you exercise, why post-workout nutrition is so important, and what to eat to optimize your recovery. 

 


What happens to our bodies after we work out?  

Within the first 30-45 minutes after exercising our bodies are greedy for nutrients. 

 

Movement, especially intense movements such as weight training or sprint intervals, turns our bodies into nutrient-processing powerhouses.

 

During this time, our muscles hungrily take in glucose, which becomes oxidized as fuel or stored as glycogen. 

 

Glycogen is released when the body needs a quick boost of energy or when the body needs fuel for the cells that it cannot get from food.

 

Glycogen stores play a significant role in training at moderate to high intensity because muscle glycogen is the primary fuel during exercise

 

This means what you eat after today’s workout significantly impacts tomorrow’s training session.

 

Why is post-workout nutrition important?

Eating high-quality foods after exercise serves many functions.

  • Boost recovery
  • Builds muscle
  • Refuels depleted nutrient stores
  • Improves future athletic performance

What is the role of macronutrients in optimizing recovery?

Protein: Eating protein after exercise prevents protein breakdown and stimulates synthesis, leading to increased or maintained muscle tissue. Eating protein after exercising is a great strategy for better recovery, adaptation, and performance.

 

Carbohydrates: Contrary to popular belief, it’s unnecessary to stuff yourself after your workout with refined carbohydrates and sugars to “spike” insulin and theoretically restore muscle and liver glycogen.

 

A blend of minimally processed whole food carbohydrates or fruit (to better restore or maintain glycogen) with protein is a better choice. Whole food complex carbohydrates:

  • Are better tolerated than sugars
  • Restore glycogen evenly over a 24 hours
  • Help to improve next-day performance

Fat: Fats should be minimized after exercise because they slow digestion and the absorption of nutrients.


What role do electrolytes and hydration play? 

When you sweat during exercise, you are not only losing water, you are also losing essential minerals. These minerals help the brain, heart, gut, and muscles and are critical for athletic performance and basic biological functioning. 

 

Electrolytes are especially important when exercising outdoors on hot and humid days. 

 

Sixty percent of our body is water. To drink water before, during, and after exercise is essential to overall health.

 

How much water you need will depend on a range of factors, such as age, weight, health status, and activity level, to name a few. 

 

Small or sedentary people might need less than three liters of water each day. You need more water if you have a larger body and/or exercise in a hot, humid environment. 

 

Thirst is a much better gauge than forcing yourself to guzzle a predetermined volume.

 

Does the quality of the food matter? 

YES!

 

Foods high in calories, sugar, and low-quality fats do not fuel your body in the same way that healthy foods do. They can create blood sugar dysregulation, energy and mood swings, and overall fatigue.

 

Eating junk food can also lead to excessive eating of these nutrient-poor foods. (No, post-workout donuts are not a good choice, and it doesn't become a better choice once you eat your third donut).

 

What should people eat after exercising for optimum recovery?

There is a wide range of nutrient-dense foods that support health and recovery for athletes of all ages.

 

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Coconut dairy products
  • Organic fruits and vegetables
  • High-fat dairy products (for those who tolerate dairy)
  • Grass-fed, organically-raised meat and poultry and/or wild-caught fish
  • Minimally-processed protein powders added to milk, milk alternative, water, or made into shakes
  • Complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, oats, plantain, beans, and/or brown rice

 

What amount of food do we need?

People should eat a meal an hour or two prior to exercising and again one to two hours later. 

 

Competitive athletes, endurance athletes, and bodybuilders have higher nutrient needs. But unless you are training for many hours per day, the following amounts of food per meal will suffice.

 

Meal size for men:

  • Two thumbs of fats
  • Two palms of protein
  • Two fists of vegetables
  • Two cupped handfuls of carbs
  • A low-calorie beverage like water

Meal size for women:

  • One thumb of fats
  • One palm of protein
  • One fist of vegetables
  • One cupped handful of carbs
  • A low-calorie beverage like water

Sometimes after training, you might not feel hungry. That is okay. If you don’t feel like eating, you can choose liquid nutrition, aka, a protein shake.

 

Why protein shakes are awesome

When you are training and working and parenting and running errands, it is hard to sit down and eat a balanced meal every time you are supposed to.

 

Protein shakes are an easy way to get most, if not all, of the nutrients your body needs — quickly. There are several different flavor combinations you can blend up to make a tasty shake.

 

Super Shake Recipe

Here is an outline of how to make a Super Shake. Mix and match as you like.


1. Pick 4-8 ounces of liquids

  • Water
  • Almond milk (unsweetened)
  • Cow milk
  • Soy milk (unsweetened)
  • Hemp milk (unsweetened)
  • Iced green tea

2. Add one scoopful of protein powder (20-25 grams of protein)

  • Pea protein
  • Rice protein
  • Hemp protein
  • Casein protein
  • Whey protein
  • Other proteins or protein blends

3. Pick one fist-sized portion of a vegetable

  • Dark leafy greens — spinach, swiss chard, kale, beet greens
  • Pumpkin  or sweet potato
  • Beets 
  • Cucumber or celery
  • Powdered greens supplement

Spinach is usually your best bet, as it is virtually flavorless in your Super Shake. Canned pumpkin is great too. It goes well with vanilla.

When using beets, try roasting them and removing the skin first. Beets pair well with chocolate. If you add celery or cucumber, you’ll need to use less liquid in your shake.

4. Pick one cup of fruit or fruits

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Cherries
  • Dates
  • Pineapple 
  • Mango
  • Powdered fruit supplement

Toss in a banana to give the shake a creamy consistency. Dates go a long way since they’re very sweet. Apples are easy — simply remove the core and slice into wedges. You can use fresh or frozen fruit. 

 

5. Pick 1 thumb-sized portion of a healthy fat

  • Walnuts
  • Flax, hemp, chia seeds
  • Cashews
  • Almonds
  • Peanut or nut butter

When blended well, nuts and seeds give the shake a nice, rich consistency.

 

6. Pick a topper

  • Coconut
  • Cacao nibs / dark chocolate
  • Yogurt
  • Oats / granola
  • Cinnamon
  • Ice cubes (if using fresh fruit)

Cinnamon is good with vanilla and pumpkin. Add oats if you need extra carbs, yogurt if you want a smoother consistency, and ice if you use fresh fruit. Blend and enjoy. This can be drunk after a workout or as a meal replacement. 

 

Final thoughts on post-workout nutrition

When you take the time to eat healthily, you maximize your athletic performance and aid your body’s recovery. 

 

Finding the time to prepare healthy food is hard to do. We are all running busily from one activity to another. But with a little planning and having good food stocked in the house, you can make nutritious post-workout meals for yourself.

Paseo Club is a social club in Santa Clarita Valley that supports a holistic approach to wellness — nutritional, physical, and mental/emotional. 

 

Learn more about nutrition by reading about how to eat well for training. We offer initial fitness assessments to help members get off on the right foot. 

 

We have tennis and pickleball courts, a junior-Olympic pool, and indoor and outdoor fitness facilities.

 

Come to Paseo and grab a bite to eat at the cafe or get a massage at the spa. You can also join us for one of our fun social events, such as Wine Down Wednesday or Friday Night Fiesta. 

 

If you are in Santa Clarita and haven’t come by to check out our 8-acre facility, now is the time. Schedule a tour today.