Whether you’re a seasoned lifter or completely new to the gym, one important point you’ll need to keep in mind is that going to the gym is only half the battle. When you’re working out, you’re creating microtears in your muscles. These microtears lead your body to rebuild your muscles, meaning you get bigger and stronger over time. This repairing process takes place while you are recovering, not while you’re exercising.
Recovery allows the body to repair damaged tissue as well as replenish energy stores. Though the validity of “overtraining” is still being debated, you sure as heck can be under recovered.
For proper recovery, you’ll need to get the adequate sleep and eat the right food. With so many fad diets around today, you’re bound to get confused about what to eat, and what to avoid. In this article, I’m cutting through all that noise, tell you what macros to focus on, and give you the 8 best foods to speed up your post-workout recovery so you can get back to the gym in no time!
If you have any medical conditions that limit what foods you can eat, do consult your medical professional before pursuing.
Also, this list will depend on the type of diet you follow. For example, if it’s keto, you should limit yourself to these foods. There is even a vegetarian version of the keto diet! However, in this article, I’ll share a list of foods that’s suitable for a “regular” eating habits.
The Balanced Macros
Many people think that all you need to focus on after a good workout is protein, which is understandable since we’re so used to seeing fitness gurus and the muscle heads at the gym gulping down a protein shake after their intense workouts. However, other macros, especially carbohydrates play vital roles in your post-workout recovery.
During strenuous exercise, your body uses glucose as fuel. Glucose is stored as glycogen in the tissue. The rate at which your glycogen stores run out very much depends on the kind of exercise, as endurance sports such as swimming and cycling will require more glycogen than resistance training.
Consuming carbohydrates replenish these glycogen stores. A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that proper glycogen resynthesis can be achieved by consuming 0.5-0.7 grams of carbs per pound of body weight within 30 minutes after training. Glycogen synthesis is also known to help stimulate muscle tissue repair and adaptation.
Strenuous exercise will trigger the breakdown of muscle protein. Post-workout is definitely not the time for a Big Mac! To repair and recover these broken-down muscle tissue, you’ll need to supply yourself with adequate protein. Protein will be broken down into amino acids, giving you the building blocks for building new tissue.
A study in the American Journal of Physiology has indicated that protein intake right after a workout may be more anabolic when compared to protein consumption at a much later time.
The Top 10 Foods
Before I start, here’s a disclaimer: The list of food is not sorted according to any criteria.
I believe that low-fat Greek yogurt is one of the best food you can eat after a workout. Greek yogurt contains twice as much protein compared to regular yogurt. According to Prevention, a 6-ounce serving of Greek yogurt packs the same amount of protein as in 3 ounces of lean meat. It’s convenient on-the-go.
Before you run out and buy yogurt, you should know that those sold in grocery stores aren’t always the best quality. Manufacturing yogurt requires high cost, and companies are always trying to use unnecessary additives and fillers in their products. Read these tips on how to find the best yogurt. Considering Greek yogurt has low carbs, I would highly suggest adding a couple spoons of oatmeal for a complete post-workout meal.
Sweet Potato/ White Potato
Potatoes are a great post-workout meal because they’re easy to cook and go well with whatever you’re eating them with. The two popular kinds of potatoes are sweet potatoes and white potatoes. Which potato you opt for depends on your fitness goals, though the differences are minute. Here, I’ve listed some of the differences between the two for your convenience!
|Sweet Potato (200g)||White Potato (200g)|
Source: United States Department of Agriculture, USDA
Salmon can be slightly expensive depending on where you live, but there is no doubt it is one of the best foods for recovery. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that contain anti-inflammatory properties. According to a study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, omega-3 may minimize post-workout soreness and facilitate training in individuals.
Aside from keeping the soreness at bay, salmon is super rich in protein. A 3.5-ounce serving of salmon contains around 22-25 grams of protein, which is almost half of the daily recommended protein requirements at around 56 grams for men, and 46 grams for women.
Unlike most plant-based foods, this grain from Peru is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all the essential amino acids. This is especially great for those who don’t eat animal products.
A cup of cooked quinoa contains approximately 8 grams of protein, which is high compared to other grains such as brown rice at 5 grams and barley and 3.5 grams. A cup of quinoa also sports 40 grams of carbohydrates, which makes it an excellent post-workout recovery meal.
If you’re always on the run and need a quick, cheap, and tasty post-workout meal, bananas fit that criterion. Bananas offer the good kind of carbs we need to replenish our glycogen levels. A medium banana contains up to 30 grams of carbohydrates and is rich with potassium and magnesium to replenish lost salts.
A recent study found that bananas have metabolites that could reduce cyclooxygenase-2, COX-2 enzyme, which is an enzyme that promotes pain and inflammation after exercise. According to David Nieman, head author of the study, this is the same gene Ibuprofen and aspirin (anti-inflammatory drugs) work on. He also added that they were surprised to see these properties in bananas which acted like painkillers, but “without the risks”.
If you’re one to blend a shake before hitting the gym, I highly recommend incorporating banana to your protein shake. It adds a wonderful sweet aftertaste and definitely completes your post-workout shake with the added carbs.
There’s plenty of protein powder to choose from the market. If you’re not lactose intolerant, I highly recommend your classic whey protein. Do note that whey protein comes from milk, and is a byproduct of the cheese-making process, and is a no-go for vegans. If you’re a vegan, plant proteins are becoming very popular in the fitness world. A serving of whey protein powder provides you around 24 grams of protein, and up to 30 grams of protein if it’s a whey isolate. That’s half as much protein a chicken breast gives.
Protein powders may not give you the most protein, but they do offer you a whole lot of convenience! Sometimes we just don’t have the money or time for a full meal, and having an on-the-go shake definitely makes watching our diet more bearable.
There’s no way we’re leaving this breakfast favorite off the list! Eggs are a great source of affordable protein. One egg has roughly 6 grams of protein and is packed with vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy body. The egg whites contain only protein, and most of the nutrients are found in the yolk. Prior to contrary belief, the cholesterol in eggs does not raise blood cholesterol levels. In fact, the “bad” or saturated fats in eggs is only a tiny amount- at 1.6 grams.
Whether you’re having it scrambled or sunny-side up, you’ll never get bored of this healthy delicacy because you can pair it with so many food choices and it will still taste great.
Notice how I specifically listed chicken breast instead of just chicken. I’m not saying that the mouth-watering drumstick isn’t good for building muscle, but chicken breast, in particular, is popular amongst bodybuilders because of it’s the healthiest part of the chicken. It’s low in fat, and a very lean protein source. Chicken breast is also rich in selenium, vitamin B6, niacin, and phosphorus.
Served skinless, you’ll be getting 2 grams of fat, 0 grams of carbohydrates, and 19 grams of protein for a serving (3 ounces)! This is especially great if you’re a bodybuilder that’s cutting down fat.
What you eat is a key part of your recovery process, and something that is often overlooked. Making sure you get the right foods post workout will help you speed-up your post-workout recovery so you can keep on being productive in the gym, as well as your professional and personal life.