How to eat for optimal workout recovery

Between all the crazy supplements and meal-replacement drinks and bars, there seems to be a whole lot of confusion as to what’s the best post-workout nutrition plan. There’s not a magic pill or wonder food to melt away fat and build muscle, but there is a healthy combination of food to help you recover and fuel your body with the appropriate nutrients.

After a rigorous workout, whether cardio or strength training, the one common ingredient is nutrition. Whole food is your source to repair your body and prevent soreness. That’s all you need. Really.

Here’s what — and why.

Your muscles are doing different things when you work out

Your muscles are always up to something different. Photo: Scott Webb/Unsplash

There are two basic types of workouts: anaerobic and aerobic.

Aerobic (also known as cardio) is when your heart is beating super fast and you’re really reducing your muscles’ hydration levels. When you do cardio, you deplete your glycogen stores, which are in your muscles. Carbohydrates help replenish glycogens.

Anaerobic (also known as strength training) is when you are tearing your muscles (literally) by engaging in weight-bearing activities, and you need something to be able to build them back up and help them get stronger during recovery. Proteins help repair muscle.

“Recovery is almost more important than the workout itself, or surely just as important,” says Alex Blodgett, co-founder/CMO of Revere pre- and post-workout dietary supplement powders.

What nutrition ratio do you need after a cardio workout?

Get that heart rate up. Photo: Jenny Hill/Unsplash

After a cardio workout, your glycogen stores are diminished. To prevent soreness and restore energy, you need carbs, ideally in a 4-to-3 ratio of carbohydrates to protein.

Carbs get a bad rap, and that’s not fair. “When you’re working out, you’re burning energy, which is carbohydrates stores,” says Blodgett. “And if you don’t replenish that, then you can’t get stronger. You end up being exhausted and you crash.

“If you’re able to put those things that you have taken out of your body back in, in a healthy way, not [an] ‘I’m going to eat a whole bag of potato chips’ way, then you are doing all the right things.”

The best way to intake your recovery carbs is not from meal replacements filled with man-made ingredients or chemicals that you can hardly pronounce. Fuel your body with whole-food carbs like sweet potatoes, pumpkin or tart cherries.

What nutrition ratio do you need after strength training?

Your muscles will need repairing. Photo: Keit Trysh/Unsplash

During a strength workout, you create micro-tears in your muscle. Studies have shown that proteins help repair the tears in your muscles and prevent soreness. A 2-to-1 ratio of protein to carbohydrates is needed to rebuild your muscles after strength training.

You don’t need to devour chicken or a steak right after lifting weights, however; pea- and plant-based proteins used in the above ratio can be ideal for repairing your muscles.

Not only will the right nutrition help you recover, but it will also minimize hunger and steady your blood-sugar levels. And it will deliver the right amount of energy and stamina needed for future workouts.

How much time do you have to recover?

Post-Exercise Fuel

Replenish lost nutrients with whole food for best recovery. Photo: Courtesy of Revere

Ideally, you should replenish your body with lost nutrients within 30 minutes after exercise. If you get healthy carbs or proteins in an hour or two after your workout, that’s OK. But it’s best to refuel within a half hour for optimal results.

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