Not sure what to snack on to refuel after a long workout? Julie Upton, MS, RD, of Appetite For Health, shares three of the best foods to eat after working out to help you get fitter faster.
Whether you're training for a triathlon or marathon or simply want to "see" your abs again this summer, remember that it's not just about what happens during your workouts. Making the right post-exercise food choices is critical to improving your strength and cardio fitness. As a sports nutritionist, I am always quick to remind active women that their workout isn't over until they've addressed their recovery nutrition.
The right recovery foods and beverages will help rehydrate you, replacing fluids lost from sweating. They'll also replenish depleted muscle carbohydrate and repair muscle fibers. Without the right stuff after your sweat session, you simply can't get the most out of your training.
For optimal recovery, you should aim to get 15 to 25 grams of protein and .5 to .75 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight within roughly two hours after you've worked out. For a 135-pound woman, that's about 67 to 101 grams of carbohydrate. If you're working out to lose weight, focus on the recommended amount of protein and don't exceed .5 grams carbohydrate per pound of body weight.
Here are three winning post-workout foods and healthy, no-sweat ways to enjoy them.
The crimson root veggie provides unique compounds — nitrates and betalains — that increase the delivery of oxygen to muscles, making exercise easier. Studies show that drinking beetroot juice before a workout can enhance endurance, and it may reduce muscle soreness afterwards, too. One study from the United Kingdom found that professional cyclists who drank about 16 ounces of beetroot juice three hours before exercise increased their performance, compared to subjects who drank a placebo beverage.
Hot to Eat: Beets are quite versatile, and can be enjoyed baked, roasted, juiced, pickled or grated into your favorite dishes. Consider pairing earthy beets with goat cheese and arugula for a colorful salad or enjoy them simply roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper. They're also great blended into recovery smoothies like this one.
Berries are a good source of healthy carbohydrates (around 20 grams per cup) as well beneficial antioxidants, which can help protect your muscles from free radical damage associated with exercise.
Animal and human studies show that consuming antioxidants, like vitamins C, E and others present in berries can help reduce "oxidative stress" and inflammation associated with exercise.
How to Eat: To get the most out of berries, combine them with a protein-rich food like Greek yogurt or cottage cheese or with a high-protein cereal. You can also incorporate them into a smoothie.
Sweet and juicy, watermelon is 92 percent water by weight, making it a great option for rehydration. Two cups of watermelon has just 80 calories and is a good source of vitamin C, lycopene, potassium and vitamin A. What's more, an amino acid in watermelon, L-citrulline, has been shown to ease muscle pain. Athletes who drank 16 ounces of watermelon juice before a high-intensity cycling test experienced a decrease in muscle soreness and heart rate post-exercise, compared to those who drank a fruit drink with no L-citrulline.
How to Eat (or Drink): Enjoy fresh slices of the refreshing fruit or add fresh watermelon to your salads. You can blend also with coconut water for a tastier sports drink or add it to your smoothie recipes.