For those of you with a sweet tooth, fresh pomegranate and pomegranate juice make an excellent choice after a workout. Research shows that this fruit contains antioxidants which may decrease inflammation post-exercise.1 This facilitates recovery after sport and ensures that you come back to the next session feeling strong and fit.
Recipe of choice – Spicy couscous with pomegranate seeds and toasted pine nuts
Green vegetables are important in any diet because of the multitude of vitamins and minerals they contain, however, they are of even more value to those planning to do any exercise.
A recent review, for example, examined 77 previous studies that had focused on whether or not a plant-based diet could reduce inflammation.2 Researchers concluded that, not only did a plant-based diet have prominent anti-inflammatory effects, it also improved physical performance.
Part of this may be to do with the fact that vegetables, fruit and other plant-based ingredients promote leaner body mass and reduced body fat which, in turn, could make exercise easier.3 They also improve glycogen storage which is important for maintaining energy during endurance sports.
Green vegetables are of particular importance, though, because they contain nitrate. Research shows that getting a good supply of this could enhance muscle fibres, thus making it easier to sustain the motions involved in a strenuous workout.4
The range of green vegetables is almost endless - spinach, bok choy, broccoli and rocket are but a few examples. Try incorporating plenty of these into your workout routine and see if you feel a difference!
Recipe of choice – Poached eggs with spinach on wholemeal toast
The glycaemic index (GI) has an important role to play in maintaining energy levels during any physical activity, plus it can affect overall performance. The GI describes the rate at which carbohydrate foods are digested and enter the bloodstream as glucose.
Low GI foods are digested and absorbed slowly, leading to a gradual rise in blood sugar levels. Having stable blood sugars makes us feel fuller for longer, plus it sustains energy levels throughout the day (or during the course of a training session) rather than causing a rise and fall in energy levels.
Muesli is a tasty, low GI option but if this doesn’t take your fancy then boiled potatoes, yogurt, chickpeas, bananas, porridge oats, apples and whole milk also have a low GI.
Recipe of choice – Homemade muesli with almond milk
Bananas are another good option pre-workout as they have a high carbohydrate content, meaning they maximise muscle glycogen. During a high intensity workout your body uses up its stores of muscle glycogen – it is the primary fuel your muscles use for energy production – so it is important to keep stores topped up. If you fail to keep loaded up on glycogen it could lead to reduced energy levels during your workout and poor performance.
Bananas have the added benefit that they are low GI, meaning they promote more sustained energy levels which, again, aids performance levels.
Recipe of choice - Apple and banana smoothie
What should you eat after a workout?
Refuelling after a workout is necessary as it repairs the damage caused by exercise and prepares the body for the next session. Protein is needed post-exercise, for example, to repair and build new muscle. Goods sources of protein include meat, fish, poultry, eggs and milk.
It is also important to replace carbohydrates because, as I have just discussed, these are used up during exercise.
In addition, it can be beneficial to consume high GI foods after exercise as these restore energy levels quickly. High GI foods include baked potatoes, honey, French baguettes and parsnips.
These are less useful before exercise as they are digested rapidly and then absorbed into the bloodstream. This causes a large increase in blood glucose levels and, in response, the pancreas will produce large amounts of the hormone insulin which causes blood sugar levels to drop rapidly. This can lead to fluctuation in energy levels – going from being full of energy to lethargic very quickly.
Recipe of choice – Thai parsnip and lime soup
What should you drink after a workout?
It is important to rehydrate with plenty of water before, during and after a workout. However, with a helpful combination of magnesium, zinc, vitamin D and calcium, Balance Mineral Drink can also be very helpful at this time.
Balance replaces the vitamins and minerals lost through exercise but it also helps to fight symptoms of fatigue and tiredness, which you’ll no doubt be feeling at this time. The drink also has the added benefit that it supports normal muscle and bone function and, as these are crucial to good sporting performance, this feature will be of importance to any sporting enthusiast!
For more information on what to drink to improve your workout, take a look at my blog 5 drinks to boost sporting performance.
1 Barnard ND et al. Nutrients 2019, 11(1), 130
2 Barnard (2019)
3 Barnard (2019)