Your muscles need to recover after a hard workout, but what's the best way? Knowing what foods to eat and when to eat them can help you recover better and be ready for your next workout.
"There's a window of opportunity in the hour post-workout," explains Steve Hertzler, PhD, RD, nutrition scientist and dietitian with Abbott. "But if you wait too long to eat, this delays the refueling process in tired muscles and might impair your performance in the next workout or competition. This is especially true if there is a short time between competitions or if you are training more than once per day."
Next time you hit the gym or the pavement, try one of these tasty dietitian-approved post-workout snacks for the energy and nutrients your muscles crave.
For optimal recovery, Hertzler recommends the 15-30-45 formula. That means consuming 15 to 30 grams of protein within 45 minutes of working out. To further enhance recovery, he suggests choosing a high-quality whey protein that's free of fillers.
For a refreshing, protein-packed drink to refuel worn out muscles, mix two scoops of 100 percent whey protein powder with water and blend with one cup of leafy greens like spinach, a medium banana, 10 ounces of orange juice and a little ice.
Eggs deliver the highest quality protein, making them one of the best foods to eat after a sweat session. Scramble up two large eggs and you'll get 13 grams of protein. While you're at it, toss in a handful of chopped onions, peppers and mushrooms for extra vitamins and phytonutrients to speed muscle repair. Serve it in a whole-wheat pita pocket and you'll score six additional grams of protein, plus 36 grams of carbohydrates to replenish depleted glycogen. Glycogen is a readily available, stored form of glucose and is used by your muscles for fuel when your blood sugar levels drop — think of it as your backup energy reserves.
If you're looking for a snack to help you recover, a Greek yogurt parfait is a perfect choice. A single-serve container of non-fat plain Greek yogurt provides 17 grams of protein along with nearly 20 percent of your daily calcium, a mineral that's lost during prolonged sweating. Simply combine the yogurt with one scoop of Whey Protein powder and one teaspoon of honey and mix well. Top with a few dark chocolate chips and fresh berries for a healthy dose of energizing protein and carbs.
After a tough workout, the last thing you want is to undo all of your hard work with a lot of fat and calories. That's where grilled chicken comes in. Two ounces of skinless grilled chicken strips deliver 16 grams of lean protein for only 82 calories. Pair them with a cup of crunchy water-rich veggies plus one-quarter cup of hummus and you've got a satisfying, low-calorie snack that's guaranteed to stick to your ribs for hours.
If you usually exercise at night, try snacking on a cup of cottage cheese afterward. Cottage cheese is packed with sodium to replenish lost electrolytes, so it's great for supporting hydration. It also contains casein, a form of protein that's digested slowly, making it a favorite before-bedtime protein source among athletes. With an impressive 28 grams of protein per cup, think of it as a smart strategy to feed your muscles while you sleep.
When you're planning your post-workout snack, don't forget fluids for rehydration. Carrying a water bottle is an easy way to guarantee you'll have the liquid you need to rehydrate right after exercise, recommends Hertzler. Wash down your post-workout snack with a big glass of water for optimal recovery.
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From day to day, elite athletes' workouts change to emphasize a variety of different strengths and skills and prevent over-training of specific muscles or joints. Over time, intense athletic training improves performance by breaking down the body's muscles, depleting them of their energy stores, and then recovering and repairing them to allow optimal strength and performance. If athletes don't recover properly from their strenuous training regimen, they can't perform at the elite level, and that's where proper nutrition and hydration come into play.