Go-to foods to optimize your body’s regeneration after a workout.
The food you consume is just as important as exercise for a healthy lifestyle. Nutritious food energizes, but also serves as fuel to properly power your workout, maximize your performance and yield optimal results.
Brad Sly, nutritionist, personal trainer and contributor of BreakingMuscle.com, advocates the post-workout meal as one of the most important meals of the day. Sly recommends focusing on nutrition to replenish your body’s glycogen stores, build and repair muscles, rehydrate, replace electrolytes and support the immune system.
Ideal post-workout foods vary depending on your fitness goals; if you’re training to run a marathon, your refuel will be different than if you’re trying to lose a few pounds.
The following guide recommends top regenerative foods to consume right after a killer workout, all based around your specific fitness goals.
If your goal is weight loss …
Proteins, fruits and veggies, carbs and healthy fats are essential for losing weight. Why? Protein contains a high-thermic effect, which is the energy required for your body to process food and nutrients. Eating actually burns calories and caloric energy spikes your metabolism. Also, healthy monounsaturated fats, like those in avocados, contain oleic acid that helps suppress hunger.
- Nosh on a steak or hamburger. Red meat delivers protein, iron and vitamin B12. Just stay away from the cheese and mayo which often accompanies burgers.
- Add peppers and chicken to a stir-fry and serve it over brown rice. Habaneros and jalapeños contain capsaicin, a thermogenic compound that raises body temperature and burns energy. Chicken, a lean protein, packs high levels of iron and the rice rounds it out with some whole grains.
- Stock your kitchen fresh fruits and veggies. Foods like broccoli, carrots, apples and oranges supply essential vitamins and minerals.
- Sip on green tea. A little caffeine will jump-start your day and increase your metabolism.
If your goal is to increase muscle strength …
If you want to build lean muscle mass, you’ll need to replenish damaged muscle tissue and depleted glycogen stores from an intense workout. This is the anabolic window of time to regenerate with carbs combined with protein to boost insulin levels and help prevent muscle breakdown.
- An effective breakfast for morning lifters is Greek yogurt, berries or steel cut oatmeal.
- For evening lifters, a nutrient-rich dinner consists of grilled chicken or salmon with steamed vegetables and quinoa — the ultimate grain containing all nine amino acids essential for muscle cell growth during the repair process.
- Need a snack? Opt for solid proteins like water-packed tuna, shrimp, sliced turkey or hard-boiled eggs.
- For some carbs, try sweet potatoes, squash, fresh fruit and crudites like cucumbers, peppers, radishes and carrots.
If your goal is to increase your endurance during a run …
Running increases muscle, heart and lung strength, supports the immune system and helps control weight. But to support your endurance and kick-start the repair process, runners need to regenerate with essential nutrients ideally within 30 minutes post run.
Replace glycogen with carbs and maintain muscles with 80 to 100 grams of protein per day. A milkshake, yogurt fruit smoothie or soy burger is great for this. Seafood and lentils are also excellent sources of zinc and iron, which can also help your body better handle stress.
To prevent injury and regenerate, also fill up on:
- Sesame or chia seeds, kale, spinach which contain loads of calcium.
- Leafy greens and yellow and orange vegetables which contain vitamin A.
- Berries, cantaloupe and oranges have lots of vitamin C.
If you’re goal is to recover from an injury …
If you’re nursing a past injury, food intake is integral to the healing process. Fat-fighting foods can help speed up the process. Elizabeth M. Ward, MS, RD and fitness expert recommends the following healthy food combinations:
- Grilled salmon over white rice with cooked broccoli contains protein, potassium and omega-3 fats, making it ideal for recovering from large muscle strain — a pulled hamstring for example.
- Raw spinach strawberry salad with sunflower seeds and pine nuts drizzled with an extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing contains vitamins C and K and oleocanthal, which will help you recoup from bruises from the barbell.
- Beans and tofu are lean proteins, an essential building block for repairing tears in muscles.
If you’re not injured but are generally sore (and isn’t it everyone’s goal to avoid muscle soreness?), recover with:
- Chocolate milk, which provides a nutritious blend of protein, carbs and calcium.
- Cherry juice, which is high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories to reduce pain and soreness.
- Green veggies to promote healing and lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone).
Be good to your body and treat it to the necessary nutrients to recover after an intense workout.