Are you confused about what the best post workout recovery foods might be? Do you have a hard time deciding whether a whey protein smoothie would be better than whole grain cereal?
Whether you are an athlete or not, one of the most important things to consider with any exercise program is recovery.
Get Fit Faster By Optimizing Post-Workout Recovery
Since training is really nothing more than the breaking down of muscle tissues, athletes (and weekend warriors!) who optimize recovery and restore muscle tissue the quickest will reap the most benefit from their workouts.
In fact, the faster you recover from a workout the more fit you will be. That’s because the faster you recover the faster you will be able to train again and when you do train you will be able to push harder. The harder you push, the stronger and more fit you become. Over the course of a few months, proper recovery can make a significant impact in both your performance and fitness level (as measured by less body fat, higher VO2 Max, stronger muscles, etc.) In addition, if your muscles are able to recover from a workout quickly it allows other systems, such as your immune and hormonal systems, to remain in better health.
Faster recovery also means more energy. As a 42-year old mom, I am not exactly training for the Olympics when I exercise, but I can’t afford to have my workouts drain my energy levels either. Whether you are a serious athlete or just a busy mom like me who wants to stay fit, it’s equally important to have energy! And you can’t have energy if you don’t optimize post-workout recovery.
Of all the things you can do to boost recovery after a workout, your choice of foods will make the single biggest impact…
The Best Workout Recovery Foods Boost Cellular Regeneration
One of the big benefits of a regular exercise program is that it encourages the body to regenerate muscle tissue more rapidly and actually keeps the body in a constant state of regeneration. However, in order for the muscles and cells to regenerate optimally, they need the right nutrients.
I can’t say in exact percentage terms how much nutrition impacts your workout recovery compared to other factors (such as sleep, hydration, etc.), but I feel confident saying it is greater than 50%.
The post-workout recovery diet goal should be to focus on consuming nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods (click HERE to see the “Clean Cuisine” anti-inflammatory food pyramid that appears on page 11 of our book.) You’ll see the vast majority of the foods on the pyramid are plant-based with a special emphasis on optimizing anti-inflammatory benefits by balancing omega-3/ omega-6 fats. Note: Reducing inflammation plays a key role in how well your body recovers from a workout.
WHAT NOT TO EAT: You Do NOT Need to Load Up on Protein
I can’t talk about the best workout recovery foods to eat without also talking about protein….
How much protein do you need in a day? Probably a lot less than you think!
While there is still some gray area as to the exact number of grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass a person needs each day, most experts estimate the amount to be 1 to 2 grams. The Institute of Medicine recommends we take in 0.8 gram of protein for every kilogram that we weigh. For example, a 120-pound woman would only need to consume about 44 grams of protein a day. This isn’t a whole lot.
If you exercise of course you need more protein, but you don’t need to massively increase the ratio of protein in your diet. Instead, you simply need to increase your overall calorie/ energy intake, which will indirectly boost your protein intake assuming you are eating “whole” foods. Keep in mind, ALL unrefined “whole” plant foods have protein.
Avoid Processed Protein Powders
You especially want to steer clear of any protein powders with protein isolates (such as whey and soy protein isolate powders). Protein isolates are highly processed ingredients and are made by removing the carbohydrate and fat from a food. The isolation process involves high temperatures and usually chemicals. The resulting protein will also have a significantly lower pH than it did before processing and will therefore be acid-forming rather than alkalanizing (Note: eating a diet rich in acid-forming foods adversely affects health at a cellular level.)
WHAT TO EAT: You DO Need Carbs!
To speed recovery, your body needs simple carbohydrates and electrolytes to enter the bloodstream—the quicker the better.
Believe it or not, you actually want your post-workout snack to contain very little fat or protein. That’s because both fat and protein will slow the rate at which carbohydrate enters the bloodstream. (For normal everyday activity, a slower release of simple carbohydrate is desirable, but after a workout the goal should be to replace glycogen stores as quickly as possible.) Research shows that consuming a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein after exercise results in higher glycogen stores than consuming carbs alone. Consuming more protein, however, actually slows rehydration and glycogen replenishment, so the 4:1 ratio seems ideal for endurance athletes who train daily.
This doesn’t mean you should be guzzling Gateorade though! Gateorade of course does have both simple carbohydrates and electrolytes, and it both fat-free and protein-free, but it also has zero nutrition. Instead, you want to choose foods that deliver simple carbohydrates, electrolytes AND nutrients.
The Best Workout Recovery Foods to Eat
Nutrient-Dense Foods Boost Energy & Cellular Regeneration
The key to choosing the best workout recovery foods is to focus on the ones that have the most nutrition with the least calories.
I am NOT trying to say you should be on a low-calorie diet if you are exercising and I definitely do not believe in counting calories. Getting enough calories / energy is of course an essential component of optimizing post workout recovery, however you won’t reap the same cellular regeneration benefits if you choose to eat a 200 calorie Snickers bar instead of 200 calories of a superfood green smoothie.
The best post workout recovery foods to eat are the ones that meet the following criteria:
- Easy to Digest
- Rich in Antioxidants (antioxidants help combat oxidative stress and neutralize the free radicals generated by exercise)
- Rich in Phytonutrients (plant-based phytonutrients help detox the body and speed post workout recovery)
- Anti-Inflammatory (exercise temporarily promotes inflammation and the oxidative stress from the workout forces your body to build up antioxidant defenses. Eating antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory foods before and after exercise will reduce inflammation and speed recovery.)
- Nutrient Dense (Nutrient density means you want to consume relatively high proportion of nutrients to calories)
Nature’s Fuel: Fruit & Nuts/ Seeds
Any combination of fruit and nuts will make the perfect post-workout recovery food that meets all of the criteria mentioned above. Although I am usually a huge advocate of eating more fiber, the one exception is immediately after a workout. That’s because fiber can slow the absorption rate at which carbohydrates enter the bloodstream. So you want to look for fruits that are lower in fiber and / or consider dried fruits. As mentioned above, after a workout your body needs carbs more than fat or protein, so you want to eat more fruit than nuts or seeds.
Here are a few post workout fruit and nut combinations I suggest:
- 1 banana + 1 teaspoon of almond butter
- 1 apple + 1/2 cup “whole” almond milk, such as New Barn (click HERE to read why “whole” almond milk is best)
- 6 dried figs + 1 teaspoon of cashew nut butter
- 1 mango + 1/2 cup hemp milk
- Handful of raisins + 5 Brazil nuts
Fruit and Nut bars are also a great option:
Blend It Up (+ Sneak in Some Superfoods!)
And finally, if you have the time then making a smoothie with fruit, nuts/seeds (or nut milk / nut butters) and superfood boosters is probably the very best post-workout recovery foods you could have. A smoothie has several benefits over solid foods:
- Your body can absorb the nutrients in a smoothie more easily because blending helps break down hard-to-digest plant cell walls. This is very difficult to do with solid foods, unless you chew each bite until it reaches liquid form.
- Smoothies contain liquid that helps with post-workout hydration.
- It’s easy to add a handful of dark leafy greens (dark leafy greens are one of the most nutrient-dense foods)
- It’s easy to sneak superfood “booster” ingredients such camu powder, maca, gogi powder, etc. (see photo below) into smoothies.
8 Post-Workout Recovery Smoothie Recipes:
Here are 8 smoothie recipes below that would each make a great post-workout recovery food. Each smoothie is 100% plant based, rich in fruit and antioxidants and delivers small amounts of protein and healthy fat.
- Blackberry Smoothie Recipe (with Hidden Cauliflower)
- Red Velvet Smoothie (with Maca)
- Creamsicle Drink
- Mood Boosting Liquid Gold Smoothie (with Turmeric)
- Superfood Cranberry Smoothie (with Gogi Berries)
- Detox Smoothie (with Turmeric)
- Energy Boosting Smoothie (with Maca)
- Stress-Busting Superfood Maca Smoothie
Clean Workout Recovery Food Brands
Here are a few of the workout recovery food brands I recommend and how I use them….
- Amazing Grass Green Superfood I use this as a superfood “booster” powder to add to my water bottle that I drink both during and after my workout.
- Vega One All-In One Shake If I am not at home or just don’t have time to make one of my post-workout smoothie recipes mentioned above, then I will simply mix Vega One with water. Developed by world class vegan athlete Brendan Brazier, Vega is a plant-based shake that is filled to the brim with superfoods and super nutrition. It is also devoid of highly refined protein isolates.
- Camu Powder A true superfood, one teaspoon of camu powder = 1,180 % of your Daily Value for vitamin C! Even if you just add 1/4 of a teaspoon, camu is a great addition to any post workout recovery smoothie.
- Maca Powder Another superfood, maca is a great source of vitamins, amino acids, plant sterols, minerals and essential fatty acids that has been traditionally used in Peru as a stress-fighting adaptogen and to increase stamina, boost libido and combat fatigue. And, because it has such a mild-neutral flavor, it is easy to work maca powder into just about any smoothie recipe as a nutritional “booster”. I talk more about maca in this blog post.
- Shanti Bar These plant-based superfood bars are a good option if you don’t have time to make a smoothie.
- Goji Powder Another superood “booster”, one serving of goji powder delivers 140% of your Daily Value for vitamin A along with over 20 vitamins and minerals and a hefty dose of antioxidants. Mildly sweet, goji powder blends well into just about any smoothie recipe.
- Pure Organics Made with just 4 to 8 ingredients, Pure Organics bars are nutrient-dense fruit and nut bars that are perfect for on the go.
Hopefully this blog post will give you plenty of ideas for how to optimize your post-workout recovery nutrition. If you have any favorite workout recovery foods, smoothie recipes or tips please leave a comment below and tell us all about it!