Next month, I will be taking part in my first Spartan race. For those of you unfamiliar with this event, the spartan race is an obstacle trail race that is designed to challenge you both physically and mentally (one look at the videos on their website and you’ll understand). Well, I’m up for the challenge, slightly frightened but mostly motivated. Needless to say, I will be dedicating some hard training to prepare for this race and will be fine-tuning my nutrition accordingly. So in the spirit of eating for exercise, here are the basics on what to eat after a workout.
How does eating after exercise promote recovery?
Proper fueling after a workout optimizes recovery by:
- Rehydrating and replacing the fluids lost during exercise
- Refueling muscle glycogen stores (energy stores) that become depleted during bouts of prolonged or intense exercise
- Rebuilding and repairing muscle
Do you need a recovery snack?
Your fitness goal, workout intensity and exercise frequency will determine whether or not you need post-exercise fuel.
Recreational exercising: If you’re a recreational exerciser working out every other day or 2-3 days per week, a recovery snack is not necessary. This is important because many recreational exercisers consume more calories in a post-exercise snack than the amount burned during their training session, in an attempt to recover. This can be especially problematic if you’re a recreational exerciser trying to lose weight. In a joint position statement by the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Dietetic Association and the Dietitians of Canada, they state that:
It is unnecessary for athletes who rest one or more days between intense training sessions to practice nutrient timing about glycogen replenishment provided sufficient carbohydrates are consumed during the 24-h period after the exercise bout.
This is because muscle glycogen is restored within 24 hours, given that you eat regular, balanced meals within this time frame. So if you workout 2-3 times per week, you are not granted a sugary beverage. Instead, focus on rehydrating with good old H2O and making sure that your next meal is well balanced and nutrient dense.
Back-to-back or high-intensity training: If you are training more than once per day, competing with few hours between sporting events or are participating in high-intensity training sessions on consecutive days, this is when post-exercise fueling should come into play.
What to eat after a workout
For optimal recovery, you want to eat something that will provide a combination of carbohydrate and protein within the 45 minute period after your workout. This combination of carbohydrate and protein is important, whether you’re doing endurance training or muscle resistance training:
After endurance training, carbohydrates are important for replenishing the glycogen stores that you depleted during your workout. But including some protein (about 10-20g) will actually accelerate glycogen synthesis and also provide amino acids for tissue repair.
After resistance training, protein is required to stimulate muscle growth. But to build muscle, the rate at which your body builds muscle needs to be greater than the rate at which your body breaks it down. And after a workout, stress hormones are high and your muscles are in breakdown mode. Because carbs actually stop this breakdown process, they play an important part in your recovery snack, so be sure to include them! It’s also important to mention that 20 g of protein is enough to stimulate muscle growth.
In brief, a hard workout should be followed by a post-exercise snack that is carb-based with added protein, 10-20 g depending on your fitness goal. Your recovery food could be in the form of a beverage, a snack or of a meal. And remember that whole foods make the best recovery foods since they allow you to reap the benefits of the macronutrients mentioned above, but also of micro- and phytonutrients only they can provide.
My go-to recovery foods
Here are a few of the foods I will use to recover from my training sessions in the weeks to come:
- Parfait of greek yogurt with fresh berries, unsweetened shredded coconut and chia seeds
- Light tuna or hard boiled egg with rye crackers and crudite
- Plate of fresh fruit (apples, pears, bananas) with natural peanut or almond butter
- Finally, shakes. They’re so simple and refreshing, it’s no wonder they’re such a popular choice. But I do not advocate having to eat or drink anything that forces you to close your eyes or pinch your nose while guzzling it down. If that sounds familiar, it’s time to rethink your drink. Here are the basic components of my post-exercise shake, try making your own and have fun with it!
8oz of a liquid (water/milk or unsweetened non-dairy milk/juice/coconut water..)
Fresh or frozen fruit (banana/berries/mango..)
Protein (greek yogurt/nut butter/soft tofu/good quality protein powder…)
Extras(chia seeds/cacao/wheat germ/kefir/vanilla/cinnamon..)
What are your favorite recovery foods? Have you ever participated in a spartan race? Are you training for an event this summer?