Kicking 2022 into high gear and wondering what the key is to a strong, energy-filled workout? Fuel-Workout-Refuel-Repeat. No matter if you are a mom chasing kids or an everyday exerciser training for your fist half-marathon, the message is the same: You need to fuel and refuel to train hard and recover appropriately. Most people have the fueling part down. Like you put gas in a car to make it go, you put food in your body to have energy to workout. That is a pretty easy concept, but what is the refueling component all about?
There is a two-hour window after a workout where your body does a better job of digesting and absorbing carbohydrate and protein to help you recover. Ideally you refuel with a carbohydrate-protein rich snack within forty-five minutes post-workout and then follow it up with a more balanced meal within the next hour or two.
Refueling in the appropriate window helps your body recover and get ready for its next workout. Think of “Refueling” as having three R’s: Replenish, Rebuild, Rehydrate.
- Replenish means you need to provide the body with carbohydrate to replace what you burned off in your workout. In this post-workout window, you actually want a simple, quick-digesting carbohydrate like the naturally occurring sugar you find in milk, fruit or a fruit smoothie.
- Rebuild means you need protein to begin repairing and rebuilding muscle mass that was damaged while you ran, jumped and/or lifted weights. Whey protein, which is a milk protein, naturally contains the highest amount of branch chain amino acids, specifically leucine. Research shows that leucine can independently stimulate muscle resynthesis making it ideal in post-workout nutrition.
- Rehydrate means you need to replace the fluid and electrolytes sweated out during your training session. The goal is to consume at least 16 – 24 ounces of fluid in the pos-workout window. If you are an athlete that trains hard, weigh pre- and post-workout to see how much you lose during training, then consume 16 ounces of fluid per pound lost. An easy rule of thumb is to look at the color of your urine; the goal is pale yellow to clear. Keep hydrating until you get your urine to that color.
So, what does that science look like in food? Here are five nutrient-rich, calorie-sensible post-workout options:
- Low-Fat Fruit Smoothie: Mix 8 oz low-fat milk with a half to whole scoop of whey protein powder, ½ cup of your favorite fruit and ½ banana for an electrolyte-rich post-workout refresher!
- Low-Fat Chocolate Milk: Just finish a hard cardio workout? Low-fat chocolate milk is for you! A little higher in carbohydrate, chocolate milk provides one gram of protein an ounce. A glass of 10 – 12 ounces will give you right around 200 calories and 10-12 grams of protein. Great for your kids or for yourself as it is delicious, convenient and an affordable way to refuel!
- Ready-to-Drink Shake: Sometimes ready-to-drink (RTD) shakes might be your only option. Most large convenient stores and gyms have RTDs readily available. Choose a low-fat version with 10-20 grams of protein and be on your way to recovery!
- Greek Yogurt Parfait: 6 ounces low-fat Greek yogurt provides 14-18 grams of protein, depending on the brand. Top that with a tablespoon of honey and a half cup of your favorite fresh fruit.
- Protein Bar: If you are in a hurry and have to grab something fast, a protein bar with 10-20 grams protein is a great option. Make sure it is lower in fat as fat slows down digestion, so a nut bar is not ideal in the immediate 45 minutes following a workout; save that for a snack later. You can keep bars in your desk, purse or gym bag as a backup plan if you are in a rush to refuel!