Since many of us are using these cold winter months to get back to the gym, or are doing another exercise to get back into shape, it is a great time to get a good understanding of recovery nutrition. No matter the reason for your increased exercise regimens, the correct diet is needed to optimize the outcome, avoid injury and gain sustainable results.
Proper nutritional recovery is often misguided, mismanaged and overlooked on a daily basis. Poorly planned nutrition is especially true when we squeeze intense exercise regimens into a busy schedule. Many people lose sight of the fact that recovery nutrition is the engine that gives your tissue, muscles, and organs the building blocks to grow and fuel all your daily activity. Recovery nutrition gets a bit confusing with what to eat, when to eat it, and how much to eat.
For the best answers, look to professional athletes that use clear and precise nutrition plans made especially for their type of sport or physical activity. For example, when Olympic athletes train to the improved performance, they are required to follow strict nutrition guidelines. Most elite athletes know eating the proper foods immediately after workouts or training sessions gives them the best results for a quick recovery, repair and building performance gains.
When you start a fitness regimen to change your body composition, lose weight or improve your health, it is the foundational support from nutrition that can make it all happen. Interestingly, we need to consider recovery nutrition in our pre-workout preparations and immediately post-workout as both matter a great deal. Think of your overall diet as your doctor, your builder, and your fuel.
The answer to which foods are best for recovery nutrition has shifted in the last ten years and it’s time to consider the change. Carbohydrate loading or stacking pre-workout or athletic event was the gold standard of the past. It was a supposed best practice to replenish your carbohydrates post-workout to trigger recovery and repair. To a lesser extent, this is true, but we need to look at how the body uses your macronutrients protein, carbohydrates, and fat to recover, fuel and build.
Carbohydrates come in many forms; most common are sugars, starches, and fiber. Even though you need a certain amount to remain healthy, carbohydrates are not the best way to plan full body recovery. Carbohydrates will replenish glycogen stores which you need to do, but within limits, it’s high-quality protein for repairing damaged muscles, tissue and overall repair. There is little dispute that a combination of carbohydrate and protein loaded with amino acids stimulates the effect of growth hormone and testosterone that only happens after exercise.
Let’s take a look at the foods you should consume pre- and post-workout to trigger your best recovery results:
• Start with protein shakes for the best uptake of amino acid and use bone broth protein blended with berries due to their low glycemic content, 6 ounces of kefir and low sugar coconut or almond milk. Best done in the morning and immediately after your workout.
• Seeds and nuts are a great go-to for an additional protein source, but more critical for minerals such as selenium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Walnuts, almonds, pistachios, brazil nuts, cashews and pecans are all a good idea to add to your nutritional planning.
• Other important sources of protein and essential nutrients that should be part of your recovery nutrition is a frequent intake of whole fish such as salmon which are excellent sources of DHA, EPA, and Omega-3 which support efficient protein synthesis.
• Lean chicken, beef, and pork all have benefits in the process of recovery nutrition. If you’re vegan or vegetarian quality, pea or hemp protein can be an excellent substitute for eating meat. You want to be sure to eat protein sources that have the full set of 21 amino acids for best results.
• Get your carbohydrates from leafy greens such as spinach and kale along with cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and brussel sprouts. It is best to consume your greens and veggies lightly steamed or raw for the best nutrient uptake.
• Here are a few other foods that are very good to add to your recovery nutrition plan. Avocados are excellent sources of fats, protein, fiber, and minerals. Watermelon is a great way to hydrate, carb load and improve your nitric oxide production which will help with recovery. Pineapple has a high-glycemic impact, but is useful as an antioxidant, hydrating and replenishing your glycogen stores.
Recovery nutrition is so important to keep in mind both pre-workout and post-workout. Proper protein intake will assist your body protein synthesis process and healthy carbohydrates will add to your depleted muscle glycogen. Stick to whole fresh foods for a large percentage of what you eat, lightly steamed or raw. Maintaining healthy complete food nutrition will accelerate recovery by allowing fast digestion and absorption, getting needed nutrients transported into cells in that vital time window during and right after your workouts.
Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation and Certified Health Coach.