Editor’s Note: The following was written by Sergio Rojas who has over 17 years of experience as a fitness professional and nutritionist.* A version of this blog post can also be found at doctoroz.com.
When it comes to exercise and consuming the right nutrients, I often find people far more concerned with what to put into their bodies before a workout in order to get maximum results, and far less concerned about what to put into their bodies after the workout. The truth is that your post exercise nutrition is as important as, if not more important than, your pre-workout nutrition, and highly affects your long-term results.
Proper post exercise nutrition not only helps with replenishing vital nutrients for your body, but it also helps to flush out toxins and repair stressed muscles, allowing you to recover more completely, and therefore perform at higher levels in a shorter period of time.
It’s the ultimate pre-exercise nutrition for your next workout.
So, now that you understand the importance of post exercise nutrition, the next part is finding out what to eat or drink after your workout for the best results.
Truthfully, this will vary based on your metabolic type, as well as the type of workout you do. High-intensity interval training, long-distance running, weight lifting, etc. all have different demands and create different nutritional needs. A good general rule to follow is that the higher the intensity, the more protein your body will require, since you use more muscle fibers with higher intensity workouts, and protein is the building block of muscle tissue.
Tips for post-exercise nutrition
1. Regardless of length and intensity of the workout, start with water. Drink at least a large glass of water, if not two glasses, immediately after your workout. Water not only keeps you hydrated, but it also helps to flush out toxins, which occur during the production of lactic acid. Drinking water will help reduce the amount of lactic acid, which results in healthier muscles that recover faster.
NOTE: For longer, more intense workouts, I recommend making one of those drinks a large glass of coconut water (ideally not from concentrate). Coconut water is loaded with potassium and electrolytes, and doesn’t have the excess sodium, sugar and chemicals as many of the traditional recovery drinks do.
2. Smoothies and shakes are often a better option than foods because your digestive system is not ready to do a lot of work after a big workout—at least not for the first 30 to 45 minutes, which is the optimal time to replenish your body with nutrients.
Within the first 30 minutes after exercise is when your metabolism is most active and you will utilize the nutrients and calories without them being stored as fat. I recommend smoothies or shakes that are balanced with both carbohydrates and proteins. Contrary to what most people believe, you should actually have approximately a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to proteins for your post-workout shakes or smoothies. Carbohydrates replenish the glycogen stores (energy) to your muscles, and they aid in the transport and absorption of proteins into the muscles.
NOTE: For intense strength training, muscle building and accelerated fat loss, you may want to add a little extra protein and even reach a 1:1 ratio of carbs to proteins.
Also, for cardiovascular exercise of 90 minutes or longer, you will need to increase your post-workout consumption, as well as your carb ratio. A 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio has shown the greatest recovery results in research of runners. Some of the latest researchers actually recommend 1 gram of carbohydrate and 0.25 grams of protein for every pound of bodyweight. You will want to split the total post-exercise consumption in half in the form of a smoothie within 30 minutes of finishing your run, then the other half in the form of whole foods approximately 90 minutes later (within two hours of completing your run).
3. Lastly, some recovery drinks, protein powders and meal replacement shakes you find in stores today may use poor-quality proteins and nutrients, which are not effectively absorbed by the body. Therefore we have to do our own research to find products that use higher standards for manufacturing and production, as well as the highest quality ingredients. Try Nutrimeal™ Free, a plant-based meal replacement shake that is fructose, soy, dairy, and gluten free as well as vegetarian friendly.
All in all, remember that post-exercise nutrition is as important as, if not more than, pre-exercise nutrition.
*Sergio Rojas has over 17 years of experience as a fitness professional and nutritionist, Sergio Rojas has established himself as a renowned expert in functional movement and cellular nutrition, working with many professional and amateur athletes, professional sports teams, as well as celebrities and top executives. He is the owner of Infinite Motion Fitness, a fitness, nutrition and wellness facility that also manages several corporate fitness sites, and ImFIT Wellness, which provides corporate wellness programs to a variety of businesses and community organizations.
Sergio is a certified fellow of applied functional science and an NG360 golf performance specialist from the Gray Institute, the leaders in movement science. He’s also a certified strength and conditioning specialist, corrective exercise specialist, certified nutrition specialist and USANA fitness expert.
Learn what USANA is doing to make the world a better place.
The future of personalized health and nutrition is now available with USANA’s True Health Assessment.