Regular exercise is an excellent way to stay in shape, lose or maintain weight, prevent disease, improve your mood, and boost your energy. For many people their job is done as soon as they get off the treadmill or put down the barbell, but you may not be getting the most out of your exercise if you neglect one important post-workout requirement: eating.
Eating after a workout may increase the effectiveness of exercise because essential amino acids stimulate protein synthesis, and omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants help to reduce inflammation. There is a lot of hype, particularly in the bodybuilding world, about what nutritional compounds work best. Go to any gym, and you can’t miss the displays for a variety of protein shakes and nutritional supplement bars, all of them promising to deliver amazing results.
The companies that sell and market these products want you to think that there’s a specialized brand name formula that can optimize a workout. This is simply not the case. In fact, while many nutritional supplements contain vitamins, minerals, and proteins that are good for you, they also often contain additives and sugar and are no substitute for whole foods.
Here are the best foods to eat after a workout:
Peanuts are rich in all three of the three-branched chain amino acids (BCAAs)—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—that are found in high concentration in the muscle. Leucine in particular plays an important role in protein synthesis, and because it oxidizes so quickly, it is easy to deplete your muscle of leucine following an intense workout. Peanuts are a good choice for a post-workout snack because you can keep them in the car even on a hot day. Just make sure you don’t overindulge—it’s easy to consume as many calories as you burnt off with only a few handfuls!
Eggs are also a great source of leucine, as well as being a low-calorie source of total protein, which satiates you for longer. And don’t be afraid to consume eggs on a regular basis—research has shown that dietary cholesterol isn’t harmful to your health, blood cholesterol is. In fact, a recent study shows that eating eggs may actually increase HDL, the “good” cholesterol. As long as you’re eating organic, cage-free eggs and not having them with a side of bacon, they make an excellent choice for a post-workout meal.
Kefir is a fermented milk product that you can either purchase in the store or make yourself from a starter found in most health food markets. On average, kefir contains far more beneficial bacteria than yogurt with live cultures—a single eight-ounce serving contains over a billion healthful microorganisms. Kefir also contains complete protein, vitamin B, calcium, and a mix of essential amino acids that are easily absorbed into your body. An added bonus for those who experience acid reflux when they exercise is that consuming kefir on a daily basis also helps to balance the intestinal flora, reducing or eliminating reflux, indigestion, and bloating.
Wild Alaskan Salmon
Salmon is rich in BCAAs. The fish’s main nutritional advantage, though, is its high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. Each three-ounce serving contains over 1,500 milligrams of this anti-inflammatory compound. Consuming omega-3s after exercise can help with chronic inflammatory conditions that make workouts painful, such as arthritis. Why choose wild salmon? Sustainably-harvested Alaskan wild salmon has a lower concentration of heavy metals, including mercury, so it is a much healthier option than farmed or Atlantic fish.
Protein is the main thing you need following a workout—at least in terms of building muscle. But when you exercise strenuously, you can also deplete your body of key electrolytes such as potassium, chloride, magnesium, and calcium. Bananas, which are rich in potassium, help to restore your electrolyte balance, and they are also a good source of carbohydrates which give you an energy boost following your workout.
Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries are rich in antioxidants and have long been studied for this reason. More recently, researchers have discovered that the polyphenol compounds found in berries also have a strong anti-inflammatory effect. They are an excellent choice for vegetarians and vegans who want to reduce swelling in their joints following exercise.
Your body performs 25 percent less efficiently when you lose just 2 percent of your body weight in fluid. Dyhydration can not only make you feel light-headed or legarthic, but it will cause you to cramp up and your muscle tissue won’t heal as fast. Make sure to drink water before, during, and immediately following a workout so that you can keep your body in peak shape.
Post-Exercise Meal: When and How Much?
To get the most benefit out of your workout, try to eat within 30 minutes after intense exercise. Besides water, it’s important to consume protein and carbohydrates after a workout because your muscles require protein to repair and grow, while carbohydrates restore glycogen, your muscles’ energy. A 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein may be ideal.
How much of each is recommended? People over 60, who are at an increased risk of losing muscle mass, need to eat at least 25 grams of protein per meal to prevent the development of sarcopenia, a condition where individuals lose so much muscle that their function is impaired. Everyone else engaged in an exercise program may benefit from consuming about 10-20 grams of protein after a workout. As for carbohydrates, for optimum benefit consider eating between 30-40 grams post-exercise.
The articles on this website are not to be construed as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.