Exercise is only one part of the fitness equation. What you eat and drink after a workout determines your response to your workout and how you feel later in the day. It can even decrease your risk for getting a cold or virus. Exercise places great demands on every organ system in the body, and your body needs a little TLC after a hard workout. Here are four things everyone needs for a successful exercise recovery.
After a workout, you need fluids even if you drank water during your workout. If you’ve exercised for more than an hour, you need to replenish lost electrolytes as well. Failure to replace the fluids and electrolytes you lost through sweating can make you feel fatigued for the rest of the day. The ideal way to make sure you’re doing an adequate job is to weigh before and after exercise. For every pound you’re down, drink 2.5 cups of fluid. Some people don’t adequately hydrate after exercise and wonder why they feel “wiped out” later in the day.
After you’ve rehydrated, replenishing your glycogen stores should be the next priority. Not replenishing glycogen stores adequately makes it challenging to do a second workout later in the day if you work out more than once. How long you wait to refuel with carbs may affect how successful you are at restoring glycogen. Research shows that eating carbs within the first hour after a workout doubles the amount of glycogen your liver stores.
How much do you need? About a half-gram of carbs per pound of body weight after a workout. If you weight, 120 pounds, you need roughly 60 grams. After a workout is the best time to eat higher glycemic carbs since they stimulate insulin release the most. Insulin makes it easier for muscle cells to receive the glucose they need after a workout.
High-intensity and strength-training workouts break down a substantial amount of muscle fibers. That means your muscles need protein to repair those muscles that worked so hard. If you want to send protein speeding to your muscles, drink non-fat chocolate milk with your post-workout snack. One study showed that non-fat chocolate milk boosted after-workout muscle protein synthesis more than an energy drink. Non-fat chocolate milk has a good combination of carbohydrates and protein to help you recover better.
Exercise causes temporary inflammation and free radical damage, and you can help offset this by consuming antioxidant-rich foods or beverages after exercise. Salmon is a good choice for a post-workout meal because it contains protein and omega-3 fats that reduce inflammation. Add a serving of almost any green, orange or purple veggie to further boost your antioxidant defenses. Intense exercise can depress your immune system, and eating more antioxidant-rich foods and foods rich in vitamin C and vitamin D help to offset this.
Carbohydrates are important for your immune system too. Eating carbohydrates after a workout helps to lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that suppresses immunity against infection. Sip a cup of green tea and enjoy some veggies and white button mushrooms, another food that’s good for your immune system, after a workout.
The Bottom Line?
Don’t neglect post-workout nutrition. When you refuel properly, you maximize the results you get from a workout and reduce your risk of catching a cold or virus due to a weakened immune system. Be aware of what you eat and drink.
WebMD. “Chocolate Milk Refuels Muscles after Workout”
On Fitness. May/June 2012, pages 29-30.