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Post-workout nutrition: What you should be eating

Friday - 3/21/2014, 9:34am  ET

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What you eat after a workout is an important part of training and muscle recovery. Here are some ideas on how to replenish your muscles. (Thinkstock)

By Lisa Reed
WTOP Fitness Contributor

WASHINGTON -- The food you eat within the first few minutes of finishing a workout is known as a "recovery meal."

This small-portion meal is the most important, and often most under-rated, part of any type of training regime -- whether strength training, running or gym workouts.

Essentially, the recovery meal reloads your muscles with fuel, or glycogen.

Refueling after a workout sets the stage for how you feel the rest of the day and how well you're able to train the following day. Much like a dried up sponge, your muscles will pull in the nutrients you consume after a workout and replenish their stores.

Do not wait too long, though. Research shows that consuming a recovery meal within the first few minutes of a workout is much better for your body than waiting an hour after exercise to eat.

So what should you eat for a recovery meal?

Basically, your muscles need to reabsorb a combination of protein and carbohydrates within 15 minutes after a workout.

Consuming this combination does three things:

  1. It rapidly initiates the process rebuilding muscle;
  2. It decreases exercise-induced muscle protein breakdown;
  3. It increases muscle protein synthesis

Liquid nutrition is a great choice for a post-workout meal because the body absorbs it quickly and easily. Try low-fat chocolate milk or have a ready-made smoothie with 1/2 cup of almond milk, one scoop of protein powder and 1/2 cup of strawberries.

Here are some other options for post-recovery meals:

  • 3 ounces of turkey on a slice of whole wheat bread and a handful of grapes
  • 1/2 cup of blueberries with 1 cup of Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup brown rice with stir fry vegetables and chicken
  • A turkey burger with two Sandwich Thins
  • A serving of quinoa mixed with lentils
  • A serving of black beans and brown rice

If you haven't considered post-exercise nutrition, you're missing a key benefit of exercise and strength training. Once you start paying attention to this variable, you will get much more out of your training sessions.

For those who want to increase muscle mass, a pre-workout protein and carbohydrate meal is just as important.

Editor's Note: Lisa Reed, MS, CSCS, is a USA Fitness Champion, IFBB Pro, personal trainer, educator, motivator and owner of Lisa Reed Fitness, LLC, where she leads a team of in-home personal trainers in the Washington, D.C. area. Lisa and her team design online fitness and nutrition programs for clients around the world. She has trained hundreds of elite and professional athletes, including Monica Seles. She was the first female strength coach at the United States Naval Academy, and trained top athletes as a strength coach at the University of Florida. For more information on Lisa, visit her Facebook page, Twitter account, YouTube channel and Instagram account.

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