Best Foods to Eat for Optimal Workouts and Recovery
You’ve got your sneakers, water bottle on a carabiner, sunscreen and you’re ready to hit the road for your daily workout. You’ve got everything you need, right? Unfortunately, wrong.
What is most important in your pre-workout routine is fuel. Your body is the machine you’re putting through its paces and you need to fuel it with proper nutrition with food, liquids and supplements. What you eat before and after a workout is crucial to your overall health, fat-burning benefits and recovery from a workout.
And then when you’re done with your workout, you’re refueling your body to give it what it requires to recover from the exertion and to help you build bigger, stronger muscles. If you’re sweating and straining in your workout, you certainly want to maximize the efforts, right?
We’ve written in the past about high intensity interval training and the benefits this type of workout routine provides. When you’re doing HIIT, eating “right” before and after the workout is crucial to muscle recovery.
Remember, it is how your body recovers which will fuel your ability to perform at a higher-level next time around.
But before we get into your post workout routine, let’s take a look at what you should incorporate into your training plan to be healthier pre-workout.
Fueling up before your workout will help to energize you – and it. What should you eat?
There are many dietary strategies out there these days from the old eat a lot of carbs to paleo, vegan and keto. While each of these strategies has a particular benefit for performance and individual needs, the recommendations below are great place to start for most everyone.
1. Quality carbs. Your muscles rely on carbohydrates like cereals, pasta, rice, fruits and vegetables for quick energy. Carbs equal energy. When you ingest carbs they break down, turn into glucose and feed our muscle cells and give us fuel to exercise at our peak capacity. These are most beneficial when performing high intensity exercises that rely on power and speed. For longer duration activity, reduce the amount of carbohydrates and consume more fat and protein.
2. Lean protein. This feeds your blood cells and your muscles and brings oxygen to your muscles during the workout.
3. Heart-healthy fats. These include avocados, coconut or whole milk, coconut oil, nuts and nut butters.
4. Fluids – water, smoothies with heart-healthy supplements. Water should be drunk during your entire workout to prevent dehydration. Drink sixteen ounces of water before a workout and during the workout. Sports drinks provide carbs, sodium and fluids and those may be beneficial during a particularly strenuous workout. These should be limited as most contain far too much sugar.
Just as you should steer clear of these foods as part of a healthy, whole food lifestyle, don’t load up on fried foods, greasy burgers, soft drinks or sugary, processed foods.
What should you eat after a workout to help with post-workout recovery?
There is no question: You need to fuel back up following a workout. When you eat after your workout, you are replacing the calories you’ve burned and replenishing the glycogen that’s been depleted. Also, when you eat protein after your workout you are helping speed muscle recovery; this is especially important if you’ve been weight training.
Many foods contain electrolytes (minerals our neurons require to fire properly) and you sweat them out during your workout.
Thinking that you can avoid a meal after a workout so you can “lose more weight” is detrimental. When you’re not eating and refueling, post workout, you will battle low blood sugar and you’ll be fatigued. More importantly, though, is you will be inhibiting your body’s need to repair itself. When you routinely skip refueling after your workout, you will have a harder time reaching your fitness goals.
Rehydrating should be at the top of your post workout agenda
Replenish the fluids you lose while sweating and do this as soon as possible. You should be drinking water during your workout and immediately after.
Eating after your workout
Eat something soon after you’re done working out. This is especially important if you’ve pushed yourself to your limits and you body has used up its energy reserves. Try to have some food within thirty to sixty minutes of your workout to get your energy back up.
Don’t fill up on energy drinks and sugar-filled processed bars for a quick post workout fix. Eat complex carbs, proteins and fruit and veggie and supplement filled smoothies.
Here are a few quick-to-make post workout snacks:
1. Peanut butter and banana on rice cake. A healthy peanut butter and banana sandwich on a rice cake (preferably a brown rice cake) will replenish your energy quickly.
2. A protein shake with a banana. Make a protein shake with water, whey protein and half a banana.
3. Hummus and gluten-free wheat pita chips with carrots and celery.
4. Yogurt and fresh berries. Low fat yogurt is typically high in protein and low in sugar.
5. Turkey with apple slices and cheese. If you don’t want a sandwich, skip the bread and just eat the meat, fruit and dairy. This is a great on the go, high protein snack
Your post workout meal
Replenish your energy reserves with protein and carbs. During your workout you have torn up your muscles and eaten through your body’s glycogen. Because of this, your post routine meal needs to be high in complex carbohydrates and healthy proteins.
If you’re an athlete undertaking intense weight training for extended periods of time, you will require extra protein – especially if your workout goal is building muscle. Using an essential amino acid formula is a great way to boost recovery without additional calories.
While I am an advocate of keeping daily carbohydrate low through out the day. Your post workout meal is one where you can have an extra serving of rice, sweet potato or gluten-free snack. Your body will utilize these extra carbohydrates with little risk of causing an insulin spike.
But do not use physical activity as an excuse to eat un healthful high calorie, sugar and processed fat laden foods.
Don’t overeat. Doing that will negate some of the benefits of your rigorous workout. It is very easy to overcompensate with your post workout snacking and drinking. You don’t want to eat and drink more calories that you’ve burned. If you’re trying to gain weight, that probably isn’t a concern, but if you’re trying to lose weight or maintain your weight, overeating is counterproductive and will take away from the benefits you’ve just experienced.
A good rule of thumb for post workout meals:
1. Keep your post workout snacks to 150 calories or fewer
2. Keep your post workout meals to 500 calories or fewer
A healthy, whole food, fruit and veggie filled diet that is devoid of sugars and processed foods will help your body be workout ready. And then add nutritional supplements to help you get the vitamins and minerals you simply don’t get enough of in your diet and are crucial to a healthy mind and body.
Get up. Get moving. Get healthy!