By: Elizabeth Hubbard, University of Maryland Health Center, Dietetic Intern
Want to get the most out of your workout? Whether your workout of choice is sweating it out in a group fitness class with CRS, playing club soccer, taking a run around Fraternity Row or hiking with the Maryland Adventure Program, a healthy post-workout meal or snack can help you maximize your effort and ensure a speedy recovery for your next activity.
After you exercise, your body has a lot of repair work to do.
While you’re resting after a tough session at the gym, field, or trail, your body is still hard at work restocking its stores of energy and rebuilding your muscles to make them stronger and more resilient.
This rebuilding work requires raw materials to work with, as well as energy to fuel the work—in other words, it requires nutrients.
A post-workout meal or snack provides your body with the nutrients it needs to recover and prepare for the next challenge.
So what does your body need in order to make a full recovery? A combination of fluid, electrolytes, carbohydrates and protein works best.
The Post-Workout Trifecta
- Fluids and Electrolytes: When you sweat, you lose water as well as electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. Consuming fluids along with electrolytes after a workout will rehydrate your body and help speed up recovery.
- Carbohydrates: Your muscles rely on glycogen – a type of carbohydrate stored in your muscles and your liver – as a source of fuel for a workout. After every workout, that fuel source needs to be replenished. Your body absorbs carboyhydrates more readily for a couple of hours after you exercise, so the sooner you can get a post-workout meal or snack in, the better!
- Protein: When you exercise, you’re actually breaking down muscle tissue, so that afterwards your body can rebuild those muscles to be stronger and more resilient. Amino acids are the building blocks that your body uses for this repair and rebuilding work. Including some protein in your post-workout meal or snack will help ensure that your body has all of the materials that it needs as it builds new muscle and repairs any tissues that may have been overworked.
Fortunately, you don’t need to blow your whole paycheck on recovery-enhancing sports drinks or fancy protein shakes or bars to get what you need after a workout.
Everyday food and drinks you can find at the dining hall or at the Sneakers café in the Eppley Recreation Center enhance recovery just as effectively, and can be a healthful source of other vitamins and minerals your body needs.
For an easy post-workout snack, try one of these:
- Glass of low-fat chocolate milk (research suggests it’s an ideal beverage for recovering from an endurance workout)
- Peanut butter and banana sandwich
- Bowl of cereal with skim milk
- Granola with yogurt and berries
- Smoothie with fruit and yogurt, milk, and/or juice. If you’re daring, throw in some raw spinach or kale and make it a green smoothie.
For more information on how proper nutrition can enhance your post-workout recovery, sign up for a FREE diet analysis.