InsideTracker is a Boston-area company provides blood analysis services and software to help you find the best food to fit your nutrition needs. We were excited to pick their brains on nutrition for us athletes and runners. Read on for their list of good recovery snacks, and the science behind them!
Healthful eating after a tough workout helps your body maximize the benefits that are gained from exercise, which means that you can get even stronger and faster just by eating right. The problem is, it can be hard to know what a good recovery snack looks like!
Here are some ideas for healthy protein, carbohydrate, and fat, combinations to munch on after a workout: (We’ll get into the science behind all this further down).
• Peanut butter, honey, and banana on whole-grain bread
• Lean chicken with whole-wheat pasta
• Hummus and pita bread
• Dried fruit and nuts
• Tuna and wheat crackers
• Egg and cheese sandwich
• Greek yogurt with mixed berries
What happens to your body during exercise?
When you exercise, the muscle fibers in your body start to break down. Damaged muscle cells release an enzyme called Creatine Kinase (CK) into the blood. The level of CK in your blood shows how much your muscles and skeletal system have been worked during exercise. If your blood levels of CK are high, pay close attention to what you’re eating after a workout. (InsideTracker‘s blood analysis can help measure your CK levels, as well as about 20 other important blood biomarkers that can give you better insight into what you should be eating.)
Plenty of carbohydrates after a workout are an absolute must. Hard exercise causes the glycogen stores in your body to be depleted, so your body won’t have enough energy to begin the recovery/muscle growth process unless you refuel those stores. A post-workout meal or snack that is high in carbohydrates provides this essential fuel and gives your muscles time to build. Without that carbohydrate boost, your body will convert fat and protein from your muscle tissues to usable energy, which means that your recovery will take even longer. The ratio of carbohydrates to protein in your post-workout food should be high: 3:1 or 4:1.
To repair muscle damage, your body also needs protein, which is made up of amino acids, the building blocks for your muscles. An adequate supply of protein will help your muscles recover from all the stress that’s placed on them, especially after doing weight-bearing exercise, such as running.
Some athletes are afraid of fat, but cutting it out of your diet completely can actually hinder athletic performance. Fat helps provide fuel for the body. If your workouts typically last more than an hour, the body uses fats for energy after your glucose supply has been depleted. Pay attention to the type of fat you consume, though! Saturated and trans fats can be detrimental to your overall health, but essential fatty acids (found in fish and certain types of oils) play a critical role in muscle recovery by helping to regulate oxygen, hormone restoration, cardiovascular health, and immune system integrity.
And whole foods are ultimately the best source of this nutrition, giving you the nutrients you need while avoiding the processing and additives commonly found in post-workout supplements, like protein shakes and nutrition bars.
Finally, you’ll also need to hydrate your body correctly in order to recover from a workout. Exercise causes your body to lose fluids and important vitamins and minerals, especially if you sweat a lot. However, if you’re a long-distance or endurance athlete and your workouts last more than 60 minutes, you may need more than just water to replenish your body’s fluids. Failing to replace sodium lost during extended exercise or on very hot days can have serious health consequences, so endurance athletes should make sure they replenish their bodies with 80 – 100 mg sodium per quart of liquid and 100 – 300 mg sodium per hour from other sources.
Sports drinks are one way to replenish your sodium. After you have been exercising intensely for an hour, drink about 20 ounces of a sports drink for each hour that you exercise. Choose your sports drink carefully; some brands are expensive and can also contain as much sugar as a can of soda! If you’re watching your wallet, but still enjoy the taste of sports drinks, you can make them at home for a small percentage of the cost. For instance, you can mix 100 milliliters of orange juice concentrate with 1 liter of water and a pinch (or 1/8 teaspoon) of salt. Supplementing your fluid intake with a handful of pretzels (which works out to about 10 small pretzels, or one serving) with salt can also work just as well.
Does that help? What’s your go-to workout recovery snack? And what areas of running nutrition do you still feel like you have big questions about? We’d love to answer them in future installments!