You’ve finished your workout…but you’re probably not really finished. Just like stretching, most athletes aren’t paying much attention to what we eat and drink once we get out of our workout gear.
What you eat and drink is as important as your exercise, as it can impact how your body adapts to your workout and your ability to perform in your next session. I always have to remind athletes that their workout isn’t over until they’ve addressed their recovery fuel and fluids.
Optimal recovery can be simplified into 3 Rs: Rehydrate, Refuel and Rebuild. Refueling begins with carbohydrate, rehydrating with fluids and rebuilding from protein’s amino acids. Here’s some simple steps to help ensure that you eek the most out of your muscles.
Rehydrate: To replace the fluid lost via sweat, drink plenty of water to rehydrate. If you worked out for more than 90 minutes or at very high intensity, opt for a beverage containing carbohydrates like 100% fruit juices, chocolate milk, recovery shakes, instant breakfast drinks. If your workout was less than an hour and at low to moderate intensity (and you’re really trying to lose lbs) opt for plain water and limit your post-workout eats to 150-200 calories.
We all need about 24 ounces of fluids for every pound (16 ounces) lost via sweat. If you rehydrate with water, allow yourself some foods with sodium as without replenishing electrolytes, like sodium, excess fluid will just make you go to the bathroom more, rather than helping the body retain the lost fluid.
Refuel: If you do endurance exercise (90 minutes or more), strive for .5 to .75 grams carbohydrate/lb body weight after exercise. If you weigh 125 pounds, that equals 62 to 94 grams carbohydrate (equal to 250 to 375 calories from carbs). Some great choices include fresh or dried fruit; yogurt with fruit and honey; whole-grain breads and cereals; natural energy bars or potatoes.
(If you have a sensitive stomach post-exercise, opt for fluid sources of carbohydrates like 100% fruit juices, sports drinks, recovery shakes, chocolate milk or smoothies.
Rebuild: During the recovery phase there is an increase in your muscles’ ability to repair and build muscles tissue. And new research shows the metabolic boost lasts for at least 24 hours after exhaustive workouts but probably much less after less taxing efforts.
Although research is continuing into the optimal type, timing and amount of protein needed to maximize muscle synthesis, experts now recommend 15-25 grams of high quality protein within the first 2 hours post-exercise. Great protein options include dairy chocolate milk or yogurt; eggs; recovery drinks, bars and whey protein supplements; lean deli meats; tuna and peanut butter.
“I always revert to my old-school favorites after a long, hard trail run or Crossfit/jog workout. I mix a sliced banana with 2 tsp peanut butter, 4-6 ounces of nonfat Greek yogurt and some Old-Fashioned oats, which I always have with a soy latte. Then, I’ll drink enough water until my urine is colorless.”
Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD—after a Crossfit or trail run workout “After my long workouts of aerobic and strength training—over 2 hours— I enjoy a 16 oz bottle of lowfat Chocolate milk. It is a treat for me that I have earned and I do not drink this, what I call an indulgence, at any other time! When my glycogen stores are totally gone exhausted it is a great pick me up and I can almost feel my muscles soaking it in as I drink it. I know that I have gained muscle (and also lost body fat) being consistent with my recovery and this convenient, yummy tasting milk is what I truly enjoy after a hard workout or long ride on my road bike.”
Kim Larson, RD, CD, The Seattle Mariners Sports Dietitian
“My favorite post-exercise recovery snack is a whole wheat hot dog bun slathered with almond butter and then I stick a banana in the bun in place of the hot dog.”
Jane Jakubczak MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN, a marathoner and Washington Redskins Team Dietitian
“My post workout staple is a blended shake with 1/2 cup oats, 1 scoop chocolate protein powder, 1 banana, and mixed with about 16 oz water. I also down 8-16 oz of skim chocolate milk, the amount depends on duration and intensity of my workout. My workouts are typically 1-2 hours of of high-intensity strength training with olympic/CrossFit lifts and rowing or running.”
Pratik Patel, RD, a sports dietitian and Graduate Teaching Assistant at Kansas State University
“Here are three of my favorite at-home recovery snacks that I enjoy after a long run or ride.
Chocolate Covered Cherry Smoothie: (Frozen Cherries, non fat chocolate milk, chocolate whey protein powder, wheat germ, ground flax seeds and a banana in a blender.)
Yogurt Parfait: (Plain non fat Greek yogurt, roasted almonds, dried strawberries toasted oats, wheat germ, ground flax seed…layers in a glass dish)
Gourmet Chicken Salad (Shredded chicken breast combined with non fat plain Greek yogurt, garlic powder, sea salt, course black pepper, white beans, quartered red grapes and sliced almonds. Served over bed of arugula).”
Jennifer O’Donnell-Giles MS, RD, CSSD, a triathlete and USAT Certified Triathlon Coach
“I make my perfect whey Protein Smoothie with 1-2 scoops whey protein, frozen berries, flaxmeal, chia seeds, and cinnamon.”
Dina Griffin, MS, RD, CSSD, a sports dietitian, endurance runner and triathlete.
“My favorite recovery item is a protein shake made from using 1-2 scoops of chocolate whey protein and skim milk. Once my appetite returns (late in the day)- I totally crave salt- so will have some Fritos or tortilla chips with hummus or another dip.”
Anne Moselle, MS, RD, is a marathoner competing in the upcoming NYC Marathon and has finished the Athens Marathon.
“Personally I am a big fan of chocolate milk….always have been and am so happy that it’s finally getting the spotlight! In the heat, I go for something salty, like pickles (I have been known to finish half marathons and all I want is a pickle!) and follow it up after you cool down with some simple carbs like fruit and maybe a little bit of peanut butter for the added protein. Yes, it’s a weird combo…but it works!”
Sara Christiansen, RD, CSSD, LD, NSCA-CPT, is an avid athlete, sports dietitian and certified strength and conditioning specialist.
“Today, after my five-mile run, I ate Quaker Oat squares with vanilla soy milk, a handful of nuts and an orange.”
Sherri Nordstrom Stastny, PhD, RD, CSSD, LRD, Assistant Professor, Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences