Image by: Tella Chen
By Dexter Lunde
If you ask any personal trainer, doctor, nutritionist, dietician, or even elementary school teacher the two most important things that you can do to stay healthy, they will say “diet and exercise” or “an active lifestyle and a healthy diet” if they want to be more specific. These two things haven’t changed. It was what was taught when we were kids and it’s what doctors are telling their patients now. The way that our children are learning their multiplication tables might have changed, but diet and exercise are still two of the most important aspects of living healthy.
If both nutrition and working out are important, what kind of nutrition is best after a workout? In other words, what is the best post-workout nutrition? And does that change depending on what your workout is or what your intended goal is? What if you’re trying to bulk up? What if you’re trying to lose weight?
I went out and asked nutritionists, dieticians, doctors, and personal trainers what their opinions were on the topic to see what answers we could come up with.
RECOVERY MEAL BASICS
The food that you eat within the first few minutes of exercising is called a “recovery meal”. It is important because the vitamins and nutrients that you take in help your muscles recover from all of that physical exertion. In addition to that, fluids are also important for recovery and help to prevent issues like dehydration.
After you exercise, you need to give your muscles a healthy dose of protein and carbohydrates. The latest research shows that low fat chocolate milk can provide added recovery benefits, more so than a carbohydrate only drink (Lunn et al., 2012).
TV Fitness expert and professional fitness trainer & nutritionist Lisa Reed suggests that for optimum recovery, you should eat and drink within 15 minutes of exercising. “Then plan a larger meal in 1 – 2 hours.” Here are some of her examples for some well-balanced, post-workout meals:
▪ 3 ounces of turkey on a slice of whole wheat bread, handful of grapes
▪ A smoothie made with ½ cup of almond milk and 1 scoop of protein powder, ½ cup strawberries
▪ ½ cup of blueberries with 1 cup of Greek yogurt.
▪ 8 oz of low-fat chocolate milk (Not the best, but good and inexpensive!)
She also suggests that you try liquid nutrition (like protein shakes) first because your body will absorb it easier and faster.
Clinical nutritionist and personal trainer Jennifer Cassetta’s suggestions include Vega protein bars, plant based protein smoothies, and coconut water (to replenish electrolytes).
Try to get this small meal in a few minutes after your workout in order to get the most out of what is called the “window of opportunity.” One hour from your workout is better than three hours but remember that if you wait too long, you won’t be able to fully repair your muscles, nor will you be able to replenish your body’s glycogen level.
RELEASING YOUR INNER HULK
If you’re bulking up, Reed suggests that you increase your complex carbs (not simple carbohydrates like sugar, white bread, and white potatoes) and proteins by 500 more calories a day.
If you’re trying to slim down, eat smaller meals every 2 and a half to 3 hours. After a workout, try a simple snack like a protein bar or a rice cake with some turkey.
AN EGGS-CELLENT CHOICE
Nicole Sikora (from the Guiding Stars nutrition guidance program) says that, “An early morning workout calls for a protein rich breakfast that starts your day off right. No doubt, eggs are a great “go-to”. Pair 2 eggs with protein rich whole wheat bread and you will get almost 20 grams of protein. (Bonus: Add some refreshing melon to rehydrate as well!)”
There are so many protein and nutrition bars out on the market right now. It’s hard to choose which ones are healthy and which ones are just packed with sugar. I suggest keeping a few different varieties in a Ziplock in your gym bag. Why? Well, sometimes I’ll head to the gym for a short workout and find that I was more motivated than I thought.
If you had a great workout (I mean, really exerted yourself) have something that hovers around 250-300 calories and that is packed with protein. If you need something that will help your muscles repair themselves but don’t want to stuff yourself before dinner, grab a bar that has about 7 -10 grams of protein in it.