What’s the Best Diet for Workout Recovery?

Shandra Martinez

| 3 min read

Anyone who’s pushed through a tough workout knows the challenge that you’ll find on the other side: A rush of feel-good endorphins, sure. But also maybe sore muscles, general tiredness and even a little dehydration. After doing a bout of hard, physical work, you need a recovery strategy for your body. It will make you feel better, and can help get your body ready for the next workout session even faster. Let’s look at the best diet for workout recovery.
For years, everyone from weekend warriors to those who work regular exercise sessions into their week have talked about how best to fuel a workout. Some stand by specific protein shakes or bars. Others love having a certain sports drink on hand during their sessions. But what about afterward, when the sweat has dried and you’ve changed out of your workout clothes? How do you select a mix of foods that will help your body in the recovery stage?

What happens during recovery

Nutrition experts agree that eating foods with a good mix of protein, healthy fat and carbs can help your body recover after a strenuous workout. Deciding to fast after you’re done working out is not the right decision. Paying attention to your workout recovery is smart because when you exercise, a few things happen, according to research shared by the National Institutes of Health.
Your body’s muscles use the glycogen in your cells as fuel for moderate and intense workouts. This can leave your muscles depleted of glycogen, sparking the need for a rapid glycogen-rebuilding process.Your muscles can also undergo minor damage during a workout and need to repair themselves.

Best foods for recovery

To help it recover, your body will do best with some high-quality carbohydrates, as well as proteins that will boost muscle repair and regrowth. You’ll also need to keep drinking fluids even after your workout is done, to keep you hydrated as your body does these internal repairs.
Some examples of high-quality carbs include:
  • A medium baked potato with the skin
  • One cup of canned black beans (drained)
  • One cup of whole wheat, cooked pasta
  • A serving of enriched wheat bran cereal with raisins
  • One slice of whole wheat bread
You can mix and match foods like these to create a post-workout snack or meal that will ease you into glycogen and muscle-building recovery. Spread some nut butter on a piece of toast for a tasty snack. Or add beans to a salad or wrap sandwich for a light meal. Toss fresh veggies with pasta and a light dressing to make a pasta salad. Create a baked potato bar as a post-exercise buffet.

Timing of recovery eating

Some athletes love to debate the timing of these workout recovery snacks and meals. Should all those calories be consumed right away for best results, or should the post-workout noshing be spread over hours? A good rule of thumb is to fuel muscles with protein and carbs 30-45 minutes after a workout.
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