What to Eat After a Workout: Fueling for Recovery

By Jenn Randazzo, MS RD on May 15, 2014 , categorized in Endurance, Strength + Conditioning

recovery foods

Most of us are concerned with fueling before and during sport, but often, as soon as our workout is over, we unconsciously consume whatever we can get our hands on. Although we typically pay less attention to what we put in our bodies post-workout; many experts agree it’s what we should focus on the most. Let’s take a look at what post-workout foods, beverages and supplements can help our bodies recover from, and prepare for, the next workout.

Macronutrients: Carbohydrate, Fat and Protein

Carbohydrate

After exercise, carbohydrates, which are broken down into glucose, are the preferred source of energy to replenish muscle glycogen. The best way to replenish muscle glycogen is with a 4-to-1 ratio of carbs-to-protein immediately after a workout.1 Combining a simple carbohydrate, like a banana, with a few nuts or seeds is an easy way to provide your muscles exactly what they need.

Fat

Dietary fat is drawn on for energy when our body’s carbohydrate sources are low.  Dietary fat must be broken down into fatty acids, the substrates the body can utilize for fuel. Foods rich in fatty acids, like flaxseeds, hemp, pumpkin seeds and walnuts, are advantageous to eat an hour after a workout since they are high net-gain—requiring less energy to be converted to usable energy.

Protein

Tissue and cell regeneration is an ongoing process—beyond just during our workouts.  Our body converts the protein consumed in our diets into amino acids to be used to repair and rebuild muscles—especially important 45 to 60 minutes after a workout. While not all plant-based sources of protein contain all essential amino acids, eating a variety of foods, like sprouted organic soy (tofu or tempeh), beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains can provide a complete amino acid profile.

After a workout, it’s important to consume a complete amino acid profile. Imbalances in amino acids can interfere with protein synthesis, which could hinder proper recovery.  While all amino acids are important, a few are considered to be especially instrumental in helping our bodies recover after a workout.

  • Arginine and Lysine You may see exercise as a form of stress-release, but biologically speaking it is also a cause of stress. Endurance exercise especially elevates cortisol—the stress hormone— levels. Consuming minimally processed foods while avoiding uncomplementary stress will help to reduce cortisol levels. There is promising evidence that getting enough amino acids, like arginine and lysine, can help to reduce cortisol levels, while promoting healthy hormone levels.2 You can find arginine in sesame and sunflower seeds, most seaweeds, chlorella, and dark leafy greens.
  • GlutamineGetting a cold or flu will derail your training and prevent recovery in a big way. The first step in boosting your immune function is to make sure that what you eat is nutrient dense and rich in vitamins and minerals. If you want to give your immune system functional fighting power, consider the amino acid glutamine—a fuel for immune cells. Exercise reduces glutamine in your blood, so supplementing with it can bring these levels back to normal aiding in muscle cell repair, while helping to support immune system health.3 Glutamine can be found in raw cabbage, spinach and parsley.
  • Branched Chain Amino Acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine)Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) help transition the body from a catabolic (breaking down of muscle during exercise) to an anabolic (repair and rebuild) state. Known for their “branched chain” molecular structure, these amino acids can also help prevent the onset of fatigue4.Brown rice, hemp and pea proteins are the best plant-based sources of BCAAs.

Electrolytes

On average, individuals can lose anywhere from 1 to 2.5 liters of sweat per hour, resulting in the loss of up to 3000 mg of sodium5. Replenishing the electrolytes that you eliminate during exercise, like calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium and sodium, is crucial in recovery by regulating the flow of nutrients and waste in and out of cells, making them essential for muscle contractions, heartbeats and general nerve function. Sip coconut water, or mineral-rich green juice right after your workout.

Supplements

Complementing a whole foods, plant-based diet with supplements can offer additional help in supporting proper post-workout recovery.  A few noteworthy supplements include:

  • Devil’s ClawDevil’s claw is plant native to southern Africa, traditionally used in herbal medicine to help relieve joint pain.6
  • TurmericTurmeric, a root vegetable commonly recognized as a bright yellow spice, has recently received a lot of attention for its health-promoting properties. Curcumin — the active compound in turmeric —provides antioxidants which fight inflammation to maintain good health.7
  • Maca Maca, an Andean root plant that survives an extreme climate of freezing cold, fierce winds and intense sunlight, has been traditionally used by ancient Peruvians to increase energy and stamina, while providing antioxidants for the maintenance of overall good health.8

Nutrient Timing

Consuming the right nutrients and supplements is just as important as when to consume them.

Immediately after workout (0-20 minutes): Simple carbohydrates

While the main focus immediately post-exercise is carbohydrates, adding in a little bit of protein help to enhance the update of glucose into your muscle cells. Research shows that the most effective way to replenish glycogen workout is by consuming a 3-to-4-1 ratio of simple carbohydrates-to-protein after the workout, which helps prepare the muscles to readily absorb more complex nutrients, like protein and fat1.

If you prefer a beverage, Vega Sport Recovery Accelerator contains a 4-to-1 ratio of whole grain brown rice syrup-to-whole grain brown rice protein, making it an ideal follow-up to your workout. It also contains additional supplements to reduce inflammation, facilitate soft tissue repair, support immune system health and rehydrate your body.

Shortly after workout (45-60 minutes): Plant-based protein

Plant-based proteins are nutrient dense and include not only protein but also antioxidants and vitamins and minerals that help to support rebuilding cellular tissue. Although protein requirements are different for each individual, a focus on plant-based proteins like legumes, leafy greens, pseudograins (amaranth, quinoa), Vega Sport Performance Protein or Vega Sport Protein Bar, will help to build strong muscles.

In-between workouts (3-22 hours): Clean, whole-food nutrition

Plant-based athletes like Tony Gonzales, Mac Danzig, Brendan Brazier, Karl Lewis and numerous others in the NHL, NBA, UFC and PGA are proof that high-level athletic performance can be achieved while consuming only a plant-based diet. However, you don’t need to be a high-level athlete to enjoy the benefits of plant-based nutrition.  Consuming alkaline-forming, nutrient-rich plant-based foods, can provide all of us with quality, net-gain nutrition that will fuel our recovery and overall health.

Sample Meal Plan

 

 

Timing

Focus on these nutrients and supplements Try one of these!
20 minutes before workout
  • Simple carbohydrate, a little protein
  • Devil’s claw, turmeric, maca
  • Small banana + 1 tsp of nut butter
  • Vega Sport Pre-Workout Energizer
During workout (starting at 45 minutes)
  • Electrolytes, minerals
  • Simple carbohydrate, low fiber, a little protein
0-20 minutes after workout
  • Simple carbohydrate, a little protein (4:1)
  • Devil’s claw, turmeric, maca
  • Vega Sport Recovery Accelerator
  • Smashed dates on a piece of sprouted, whole-grain toast
45 minutes after workout
  • Plant-based protein, healthy fat
  • Devil’s claw, turmeric, maca

How are you going to recover today?

 

References

  1. Kerksick et al. (2008) International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient Timing.Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 5:17. Accessed 7/15/13 fromhttp://www.jissn.com/content/5/1/17
  2. Smriga M, Ando T, Akutsu M, Furukawa Y, Miwa K, Morinaga Y. (2007). Oral treatment with L-lysine and L-arginine reduces anxiety and basal cortisol levels in healthy humans. Biomedical Research. 28(2):85-90. Accessed on 5/20/13 from https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/biomedres/28/2/28_2_85/_article
  3. Health Canada. (2008). Natural Health Products Database Monograph: Glutamine. Accessed 5/20/13 http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/monoReq.do?id=126&lang=eng
  4. Bloomstrand, E. (2006). A role for branched-chain amino acids in reducing central fatigue. J Nutrition 136(2):544S-547S.
  5. Benardot, Dan 2012. Advanced Sports Nutrition. Human Kinetics. 2nd ed.
  6. Health Canada. (2012). Natural Health Products Database Monograph: Devil’s Claw. Accessed 5/20/13 from http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/monoReq.do?id=77&lang=eng
  7. Health Canada. (2012). Natural Health Products Database Monograph: Turmeric-oral. Accessed 5/20/13 from http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/monoReq.do?id=216&lang=eng
  8. Health Canada. (2013). Natural Health Products Database Monograph: Maca. Accessed 5/20/13 from http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/monoReq.do?id=1903&lang=eng

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Jenn Randazzo, MS RD

Jenn Randazzo works at Vega as a National Educator. She is passionate about building relationships that help people take ownership of their health. As a registered dietitian, she specializes in using client-centered techniques to guide people toward realistic and achievable goals. A strong believer in collaboration, she hopes to change the world through plant-based nutrition.

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