Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD
What do you eat first after a workout? Most athletes pay pretty good attention to what they eat before exercising, but afterwards it's almost as if â€˜anything goes".
Proper recovery nutrition does more than just replenish your draining fuel supply; it also helps your body get ready for the next round of activity. So what you eat and when could make a big difference in your performance.
Here are 3 things you need to know about recovery nutrition
- First you need to replenish your fluids and your salts. Along with water, sweating causes you to lose important body salts like sodium and potassium that you need to replace. To figure out how much you need, weigh yourself before and after exercise. For every pound that you lose from sweating you need to replace it with 2-3 cups of liquid. Water is fine because you'll be eating afterwards, which means that you'll be getting your carbohydrates, sodium and potassium from your foods that you'll be eating. Many athletes turn to orange juice or chocolate milk because they provide fluid, carbohydrates and potassium. Sports drinks are great because they give you fluids, carbohydrates and they have the right balance of salts that have been lost through perspiration. Their mildly sweet taste also encourages you to drink more.
- The second thing is that your body has burned through a lot of carbohydrates, the primary fuel for your muscles, and it's important to refuel as soon as you can. Ideally, you should refuel within about 30 minutes. Your muscles are really â€˜hungry' for carbohydrates so they are ready to take up and stockpile for the next round of activity. The best carbohydrates to take in are fruits, whole grains and the natural carbs in dairy products for post-workout snacking.
- Finally, a bit of protein is important for recovery, too. Protein helps to stimulate muscle repair and growth after a workout. Your ideal meal or snack combination is going to contain healthy carbs. and protein. This is why you often see athletes turn to foods like a whole grain bagel with some almond butter, a bowl of cereal with milk and fruit, some yogurt and fruit, or a smoothie after a workout.
Keep in mind that refueling is geared primarily to those who are doing extended and strenuous bouts of exercise. If your usual activity is a daily walk or brief swim, your regular meals and snacks should take care of your nutritional needs as long as your diet is healthy and well-balanced. However, you should always stay on top of your fluid intake.
If you're going the distance, what you eat afterwards is just as important as what you eat before you exercise. You're not only helping your body recover from a bout of exercise, you're also helping your body prepare for the next one.