When we exercise, we put our bodies through their paces which is why it’s important to put some energy back in to facilitate proper growth and recovery. This article provides everything you need to know about effective eating for post-exercise recovery, energy replenishment and rehydration.
Eating soon after exercise provides the body with the correct nutrients to optimise recovery, and regeneration of muscle. This physiological recovery involves the following processes…
- Refilling/refuelling of muscle and liver glycogen (i.e. stored carbohydrate)
- Replacing fluid and electrolytes lost during sweating
- Synthesising proteins for repair and in the making of “new muscle”
- Supporting the immune system in adapting to the challenges imposed by exercise
The window of opportunity for effective and optimal carbohydrate and protein uptake exists in the first 45-60 minutes post-exercise, and up to 2 hours thereafter.
Within 30-45 minutes of finishing a training session or race, it’s wise to consume something very simple such as fresh fruit to replace glucose, as well as make full use of elevated glycogen synthase activity (the enzyme involved in glycogen replenishment). Taking a recovery drink is also a good option, as is a vegetable or seaweed broth, which helps to replace fluids, as well as lost electrolyte minerals in sweat.
Studies have shown that consuming about 100-150g of “fast-releasing” (High GI) carbohydrates, and 20-30g of protein within 2 hours after exercise speeds up the replenishment of glycogen (stored carbohydrate), and increases muscle protein synthesis, which in turn can speed up recovery time. A good ratio to aim for is 4:1 carbohydrate: protein ratio. It appears that the muscles are more receptive to (and retaining) carbohydrate during the first 2 hours after exercise. A little protein enhances this process, as well as helps to boost muscle repair and regeneration.
The estimated daily protein requirements of athletes are 1.2-1.7g per kg body weight. This is relatively easy to achieve (practically speaking), for plant-based eaters, by consuming quality proteins at each meal or snack. Consuming plenty of raw green vegetables, shelled hempseeds, fresh fruits, beans, seeds (especially sprouted seeds, beans and pulses), nuts, and wholegrains such as quinoa, buckwheat, millet, rice, barley and oats, supplies a superb selection of proteins, as well as an abundance of antioxidants, essential fats, fibre and minerals.
Post-workout smoothies and shakes, can be made with fresh fruits, raw leafy greens & vegetables such as cucumber and celery, with added high-protein seeds such as shelled hempseeds, flaxseeds or sunflower seeds. Liquid meals such as these are highly suitable post workout, being high in nutrition, easily digested and highly alkalising. Their net alkaline-enhancing effects make them perfect recovery nutrition for the athlete, who is naturally in an acidic state post-exercise. They are best taken within the first 30-45 minutes of recovery.
Top foods for post-exercise recovery…
Quinoa – the perfect carbohydrate, rich in protein, minerals and B vitamins for energy production
Sweet potato – Full of nutrients and fibre and a perfect recovery food
Wild rice – A great gluten-free carbohydrate, rich in minerals
Squash or pumpkin – Like sweet potato, root vegetables such as squashes are great easy-to-digest recovery foods, bringing an array of antioxidant nutrients to the table
Watercress – A “superfood” leafy green, perfect as a salad base, or as a side to soups and stir-fries
Avocado – Containing natural healthy fats and vitamin E for great skin, avocado is the perfect salad ingredient, as well as used as a “spread” on rice cakes or oatcakes
Apples – Apples are one of the healthiest and most practical fresh fruits to fast-fuel and energise the body and brain! Rich in the fibre pectin, vitamin C and a powerful antioxidant “quercetin” apples are a true top “performance food”
Romaine lettuce – Romaine lettuce is a very good source of calcium, as well as a range of other minerals involved in energy metabolism
Hempseeds – One of few plant foods with good amounts of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, crucial to sports performance and recovery
The easiest way to effectively re-hydrate is to either choose a well-formulated recovery drink, or take a vegetable broth with a little added sea salt, or sea vegetables that are high in all electrolyte minerals. Choosing a tasty, flavoursome drink that you like will help immensely to effectively rehydrate.
Check out some great post-exercise smoothies and dishes in Part 2.