Why use food to recover from a workout?
When you exercise, particularly if it’s a tough workout or training session, your body will be left with low glycogen stores, and your muscles may have become damaged. It’s important to think carefully about what you eat after your workout to ensure you restore these glycogen stores and provide the amino acids and proteins to repair and build muscle. This should help reduce fatigue, pain and stiffness later.
However, you may be wondering why you should worry about food when there are plenty of supplements and powders that are specifically tailored to help you recover from a workout.
Well, in many cases, these supplements aren’t exactly good for you – they are often full of sugar, artificial sweeteners and other artificial chemicals. In some cases they are even a waste of money – either providing far more of a nutrient than the body can absorb, or else providing nutrients in forms that the body cannot easily use.
The right foods can provide wholesome nutrition, with easy-to-absorb nutrients in balanced ratios. They are safe and natural, with no nasty chemicals – especially if you opt for organic!
Shopping in a reliable health food store is a great way to make sure your food is healthy, natural and wholesome. We love Jan de Vries, who provide lots of natural foods, snacks, supplements and protein to support your workout routine. However, you can also use our stockist finder to find your local health food store!
So what foods do I recommend for post-workout recovery? Find out below.
Peanut butter and other nut butters
Nuts are packed full of protein, fibre and minerals, so nut butters provide a tasty and efficient way to boost energy and replace nutrients after a workout. Peanut butter is a great choice and really popular too, but there are lots to choose from!
Meridian is a fantastic nut butter brand to keep an eye out for. Their nut butters contain only wholesome ingredients, with no added sugars or artificial ingredients. In fact, most of the butters contain 100% nuts! Their organic almond butter contains 100% almonds and provides over 25g of protein per 100g, as well as 24mg vitamin E, 269mg magnesium and 239mg calcium.
Simply spread your choice of nut butter on brown toast, crackers or rice cakes and enjoy! You can even add a dollop to your post-workout smoothie for extra protein – which brings me to my next workout-recovery food...
Bananas and other fruit
Fruit is a fantastic post-workout recovery food: it’s packed full of vitamins and minerals and usually has a high water content, helping to rehydrate you.
Bananas are a great choice, not only because they are super healthy, but because they are really easy to throw into your bag and eat on the go – no chopping, slicing or preparing needed!
A smoothie is also a fantastic way to help you recover from a tough gym session! Either prepare one and take it with you, or, if you exercise near or in your home, have all the ingredients prepared so you can blitz it up as soon as you’re done. Adding ingredients like chia seeds, superfood powders and nut butters can help add extra protein and energy to your smoothie.
Protein bars and energy balls
Protein bars are famous when it comes to pre and post workout snacking, but are you eating the right type?
Many of the cheaper protein bars, or the extra-strength ones aimed at people looking to bulk up, are extremely high in sugar, artificial sweeteners and other artificial chemicals, making them a poor choice for a healthy lifestyle.
Opting for a more natural alternative doesn’t mean compromising on quality – in fact, it’s quite the opposite in my opinion! Pulsin have loads of delicious protein bars, each providing 12g of protein (either whey or rice). For a less protein-heavy snack, try Squirrel Sisters energy bars, which contain cashews, dates and natural flavours like coconut, cacao powder and dried raspberries.
Why not make your own? These tasty cinnamon and chia seed energy balls are packed full of energy – just add some protein powder for a perfect post-workout snack!
Balance Mineral drink
This is an absolute must-have to help you recover from moderate and high intensity workouts!
As well as burning energy, we also lose water and electrolytes in the form of sweat when we exercise. These electrolytes are vital for muscle and nerve function – if levels drop to low, you are more likely to experience muscle stiffness, muscle cramps and even disorientation.
Water is likely already a part of your workout-recovery plan, but this only replaces lost fluids. For the best hydration, it’s important to replace electrolytes too.
Sports drinks often aim to replenish these vital electrolytes, but again they are full of sugar and artificial chemicals, so don’t make a particularly healthy option for regular gym-goers.
Instead, opt for our Balance Mineral Drink. It contains zinc, potassium, calcium and magnesium, as well as vitamin D3 and some L+ lactic acid to help maintain healthy pH levels. It comes in handy portion-sized sachets so it’s easy to throw one in your bag to mix with water when you’re finished.
Fuelling up on wholegrains is a great idea following a tough workout because they help to replenish your glycogen stores. They are packed full of complex carbohydrates which release energy slowly, helping to prevent a crash later. Depending on the type you go for, they can also be rich in minerals, fibre and protein.
However, these can be a little heavy so you may not want to guzzle down those carbs straight after exercise. Instead, make sure to incorporate plenty into your next meal, and if you’re not eating another meal for a while, try to have some around an hour after you finish exercising. Great wholegrains include wholegrain bread, wholewheat pasta, brown rice and quinoa.
What about chocolate?
I often get people asking whether chocolate is a suitable post-workout snack, and I’m pleased to say that yes, the right type of chocolate can be a good recovery snack!
Milk chocolate is full of sugar and high in calories, providing very few real nutrients, so you should really avoid this. Dark chocolate, however, is a great option! It’s bursting with healthy antioxidants and is actually a great source of magnesium. It even has anti-inflammatory properties!
If you’re not a fan of dark chocolate, there are some healthy vegan milk chocolates available, such as Ombar’s Coco Mylk, made with coconut milk and coconut sugar.
Originally written on 21/06/2017, updated on 19/09/2018.