After an intense workout, the body needs to repair damaged muscle tissue. Pick the right food and you can jumpstart that recovery process without ruining the gains you made in the gym.
Amino acids - the building blocks of protein - are essential to bolstering recovery. And to ensure you get adequate amino acids, you need to eat protein. Your body also needs glycogen (found in carb-rich foods) since stores gets depleted during training. Eating a combo of protein and carbs is key to workout recovery, and foods that are good sources of both should become staples in your diet.
Add these eight healthy eats to your diet to maximize recovery after a workout.
Although our bodies produce non-essential amino acids, we also need essential amino acids, ones that are not made in the body and must be consumed from our diets. One of the best sources of essential amino acids is lean meat such as chicken, turkey, and ground beef.
According to the FDA, a “lean” meat contains less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 mg cholesterol per 100 grams. Choose meats that are at least 90% lean to ensure you’re not getting too much saturated fat and cholesterol.
One cup of cooked quinoa contains about 8 grams of protein and 40 grams of carbohydrates, making it a nutrient-packed post-workout dish. Unlike other grains, quinoa is a complete protein since it contains all nine essential amino acids, which results in better muscle recovery and more energy.
Greek yogurt has 15-20 grams of protein per 6 ounces compared to 9 grams of protein in an identical serving of regular yogurt. The protein in Greek yogurt is predominantly casein, which digests slower than whey and boasts a full essential amino acid profile.
Opt for plain Greek yogurt since it has substantially less sugar than flavored Greek yogurt, and to really capitalize on the benefits of casein, eat it before bedtime for extended amino acid digestion.
Smoothies make a great post-workout recovery drink because of the instant absorption of a custom assortment of nutrients. For a delicious, whole-food-packed option, try the Jamba Juice Kale-ribbean Breeze. The blend of fruit juice, kale, mangos, nonfat Greek yogurt, and chia seeds packs plenty of protein, carbs (from fruit), and fiber for a quick, tasty pick-me-up.
Nature designed the humble banana to be a post-workout recovery machine. One serving includes about 27 grams of carbohydrates, an essential energy resource to ignite your body’s muscle repair systems. Additionally, a potassium-packed banana replenishes the depleted electrolyte stores in your muscles, reducing soreness and speeding up the recovery process. The best part: a banana is naturally sweet, which means it’s an ideal addition to a post-workout protein shake or smoothie without adding any refined sugar.
The perfect recovery ratio of carbohydrates to protein is 4:1, according to a growing collection of studies. Chocolate milk matches this ratio better than any sugary sports drink, turning the lunch box staple into a powerful recovery option. A recent study from the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism also found exercisers are able to retain more than twice the amount of fluid in chocolate milk than in a sports drink after a workout, meaning the body is able to absorb more protein with less volume.
Bananas get all the attention when it comes to potassium, but avocados actually have an average of 35% more per serving. The fruit is also full of monosaturated fats, which have been linked to reducing cholesterol levels. With an additional 3 grams of protein, vital for muscle growth, the avocado is a filling addition to a post-workout meal.
Another potassium powerhouse, the sweet potato contains 448 mg in one serving, but because of its orange hue it also comes packed with carotenoids – compounds that aid cell repair, which is vital during the recovery process after a workout. The starchy carbs from sweet potatoes also help restock energy stores, while the fiber will keep you full and encourage you not to spring for something less healthy later in the day.