Long workouts, heavy weights, and rep after rep takes a toll on the body. That's why it's so important to recharge post workout so that you have the energy to do it all over again in your next session. Fail to do so, and you will begin to feel drained and lethargic, lacking the motivation to work out again. This compromised state also leaves you susceptible to colds as your immune system is taxed and unable to fight off airborne viruses and bacteria. The fatigue also means you are at risk for injuries since you will not have the energy to push the weights in proper form. Over time, the muscles can atrophy since they lack the building blocks to repair, let alone grow. The most important time for this repair process is in the 60 minutes after a workout. Your body is starving for nutrients and in this critical window, the body craves fluids, clean energy sources, and amino acids for muscle repair.
Those recommendations include all sources of fluids, but there are better options than sugary sources like soft drinks and sports drinks. That is because electrolytes are an important ingredient in your post workout hydration, but sources like Gatorade have so much sugar that they should be avoided. The sugar rush gives you instant energy and feels good, but offers little nutritional value. In order to replenish the sodium and potassium lost during sweating, try drinking milk, coconut juice, or even water with a pinch of salt and get the potassium from a source like bananas. If you must reach for a sports drink, opt for a low calorie version which contains less sugar.
If you are unsure about how much to drink, trying weighing yourself before and after working out. That weight loss will be mostly water and gives you a good idea of how many ounces of fluids you need to drink over the next few hours. Over hydration can also lead to an imbalance in electrolytes, so if your urine is clear drink a little bit less.
Bananas are a great source of potassium, but also provide our next recovery staple: Carbohydrates. The main source of energy for the body, carbohydrates are burned for fuel during a workout in the form of muscle glycogen. Refilling those stores helps to avoid post workout fatigue. If you workout early in the day you can eat more carbs since you have time to burn them off before bed, but if you work out late in the evening avoid the temptation to over indulge post workout. You don't want all those calories trying to digest in your stomach while you sleep. It can impact sleep quality. Aim for 30-50 grams of clean carbs from sources like fruits and vegetables, oats, or rice as part of a meal which includes our next recovery need:
When you workout, muscle fibers are broken and tissue is torn at the cellular level. This is especially true with weight and resistance training, but also occurs in running, biking, and even endurance type cardio sessions to a lesser degree. As scary as it sounds, this is necessary for muscle growth. What happens is those damaged muscle cells swell and new fibers are made if the right ingredients are present. That magic ingredient is protein.
Protein supplies amino acids which repair this damage by providing the nutrients necessary to rebuild muscles and stimulate growth. There are many amino's with different roles in the body, but a good diet will provide you with a wide spectrum for recovery. Look for low fat sources of protein like meats, dairy, eggs, even some soy if you are vegetarian.
Though real food is always the best option, protein shakes are a great way to get hydration, carbohydrates, and protein in a compact and convenient form. Look for a good quality powder that includes some vitamins and minerals, but make sure the carbohydrates are not poor quality sources like sugar and maltodextrin (often found in "weight gainers"). At least once per week I like to drink a vegetable protein based shake to vary my nutrition. These plant based powders usually blend pea, hemp, and flax seed proteins along with some greens. They usually provide more fiber than whey based proteins as well. Aim for 30-50 grams of high quality protein in that critical one hour window after a workout. If you are unsure about how much protein you should be eating, check out this BDSC post: How much protein do I need?
I hope you now understand the importance of workout recovery and will integrate some of these recommendations into your sports nutrition plan. Let me know your favorite recovery meals and drinks, and share this post with your fitness friends.
Brooke Bailey is a personal trainer, masseuse, and student in health and wellness. She currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Follow her on Facebook.