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While eating before a workout is vital for energy release, stamina, muscle growth and repair, so is eating after a workout. If your body is a vehicle that requires fueling to function well during exercise, then it makes sense that depleted energy reserves need topping up afterwards. During a workout, your body draws energy from the reserves you topped up with your pre-workout meal. Furthermore, muscle tissue can become damaged during workouts, and electrolytes are lost through sweat and expiration. This means that after a workout, when you sit down to recuperate, your body is busy replacing its glycogen stores (sugars) repairing muscle tissue and restoring its electrolyte levels. To do this work in the background, your body and muscles require feeding! (it’s hard work being a human!)
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Timing Guideline Post-Workout
While many health sites recommend eating within one hour of working out, this is mainly aimed at professional athletes. For those of us on the recreational side of the athletic world, it’s more about what we are eating after a workout rather than how soon we are eating it. That said, our bodies still require the correct ratio of macro and micronutrients to recover and repair. Furthermore, core strengthening exercises can be quite taxing on the muscles; therefore, try to get a post-workout snack in at least 30 minutes after your workout. This will ensure your muscles recover and rebuild quickly.
Foods To Eat Post-Workout
When to eat: 15-30 minutes post-workout. Chocolate milk is infused with protein, carbs and electrolytes, everything you need to replenish the body’s stores after a workout. It’s also rich in calcium and healthy fats.
When to eat: 15-30 minutes post-workout. The humble sweet potato is an excellent post-workout meal. These root vegetables are packed with vitamins such as B6, C, D and Iron. They are also a good source of magnesium and potassium. Replenishing magnesium levels ensures the muscles repair and relax, while topping up with potassium promotes muscle contraction and aids in recovery. Bake them with mozzarella cheese or squish them into a smoothie with honey and cashew milk.
When to eat: 15-30 minutes post-workout. Prepare a batch of low salted microwave popcorn, sprinkle with protein powder and enjoy! This super easy whole-grain snack will replenish your glycogen stores, and the protein powder will feed your muscles and aid in recovery.
Ham & Cheese Snack Platter
When to eat: 15-30 minutes post-workout. This is a great way to replenish carbs and proteins while keeping those cravings at bay. On a small plate, arrange 2-4 slices of ham (or turkey) together with low-fat cottage cheese and diced apple. Add slices of fresh carrot, cucumber, and tomato for extra nutrients.
Eating On Rest Days
Maintaining a healthy diet on non-workout days is crucial for recovery. This means you still require a healthy ratio of proteins and carbohydrates for muscle growth, recovery and replenishing the muscles’ energy stores.
Protein For Recovery
With strength training, your muscles are exposed to resistance, which can cause small tears in the muscle fibers. After exercise, your body goes into recovery mode and repairs these tears; as a result, your muscles grow and strengthen. However, protein is needed to complete this process effectively. Lean protein foods such as chicken breast, cottage cheese, or Greek yogurt are excellent protein-rich foods to eat on rest days.
Carbs Have Their Place Too
Carbohydrates are just as essential as protein to the recovery process as they work ‘hand-in-hand’ to ensure proper recovery. While protein repairs, carbs replenish the muscles’ energy stores. Our muscles’ glycogen levels are depleted during strengthening exercises. These levels are restored to normal, ready for future use when we eat foods containing carbs. However, as mentioned previously, it’s important to select complex (single-ingredient) carbs for consumption on non-workout days. Typical healthy carbohydrate options include oats, brown rice and sweet potatoes.
Unsaturated Fats Soothe Inflammation
Unsaturated fats are critical for a healthy balanced diet. However, they also have beneficial anti-inflammatory properties, which can aid in recovery. For example, during a workout, the body goes into inflammatory mode due to the damage incurred by the muscles. Healthy unsaturated fats can help with reducing inflammation and thus aid in the recovery and healing process. Eating foods high in unhealthy trans fats (such as fried foods during the recovery period) can lead to further inflammation and prolong recovery time. Healthy unsaturated fats can be found in olive oil, salmon and nuts.
Micronutrients Pack A Big Punch
These little guys (micronutrients) are just as important as the big guns (macronutrients). By this, we mean that micronutrients such as vitamin C, potassium and magnesium are crucial for proficient muscle recovery and should be incorporated onto the rest day menu!
All rest days should incorporate a good dose of vitamin C. Besides its immune-boosting properties, it also helps reduce muscle damage and pain. Grapefruit, lemons and oranges are packed with vitamin C and can be juiced to make fresh fruit juice or eaten as a snack between meals.
Magnesium is known for its muscle relaxing and cramp reducing properties. Avocado is an excellent source of magnesium; crush it onto toast, add it to salads or simply eat it straight from the skin.
Depleted potassium levels after exercise can cause muscle weakness, cramps and fatigue. Boost potassium levels on rest days with spinach, collard greens, potatoes and bananas.
Hydration! Hydration! Hydration!
Water is an integral part of nutrition for both workout and non-workout days. It aids in the effective absorption of nutrients required for energy production and recovery. However, did you know that daily water intake levels differ from men to women?
Men should drink 3 liters (about 14 glasses) of water.
Women should drink 2.2 liters (about 10 glasses) of water.
Meals To Eat On Rest Days
Posh Nosh Salad
Whip up a large green salad and fill it with chunks of magnesium-rich avocado, diced sweet potato and loads of fresh spinach. This easy to digest salad is filled with the nutrients, vitamins and minerals required for a good recovery. It’s also high in fiber and will keep the hunger pangs at bay!
Turkey & Vegetable Stir-Fry
Vegetables, legumes and protein are perfect for non-workout days. Select your favorites, ensuring you choose as many colors as possible to get the full rainbow of nutrients your body requires to top up its energy supplies. Turkey is an extremely lean form of protein and is rich in magnesium, niacin and selenium, the perfect health boost for a rest day dinner!
Fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids help reduce and soothe inflammatory muscle stress. In addition, the combination of high protein and fatty acids kickstarts the muscle repair process and boosts immunity.
Fruit, Vegetables and Whole Grains
Complex carbs such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains are essential for muscle recovery and rebuilding the body’s energy stores. Muscle recovery is supported and enhanced when your body receives sufficient nutrients and nourishing carbs and proteins.
Food Combinations for Rest Days.
Here are some of our favorite food combinations for those rest days and every day in-between days!
-Fruit and cottage cheese snack plates
-Egg omelet with avocado toast
-Baked sweet potato with salmon topping
-Low-calorie crackers topped with tuna and cheese
-Oatmeal bowl topped with chopped banana
-Tuna sandwich on whole grain bread
-Roast vegetables and brown rice
Good nutrition is essential to help us live healthy, active lifestyles. It benefits our bodies before, during and after exercise and ensures we remain strong and full of vitality. This is important as a weakened core and body impacted by poor nutrition is likely to struggle with unnecessary health-related illness and pain.
However, that’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy a glass of red wine, fish n’ chips takeout, or a deluxe pizza now and again. After all, a healthy life and good nutrition are all about moderation and balance!