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Go Green for Recovery

By Joanna K Chodorowska

I often get asked the question – how do I recover quicker? My answer is pretty straightforward – eat the right foods at the right time. Your recovery meal is just as important as the training, so it is necessary to pay attention to your post-exercise food intake. It is actually very simple to get those needed nutrients your body will easily absorb.

In terms of recovery nutrition, your meal should be within 30-60 minutes after finishing your training session or race. This is the optimum window to effectively refuel those glycogen stores and electrolyte levels, while hydrating fatigued muscles and connective tissues. Your focus of recovery meals should include an understanding of which foods in what combination can provide the most comprehensive nutrient profile.

What should be in your recovery meal? Basically, high quality carbohydrates, proteins, vegetables and fats together in balanced proportion. Generally I suggest 15-20 grams of protein, 25-30 grams of carbohydrates and 25 grams of green vegetables. Similar to the new MyPlate, half of your plate should be lotsa leafy greens and green vegetables, the key ingredient. 

Why? Greens help restore the body’s alkaline pH levels which often are misaligned by bouts of exercise. Exercise produces and acidic imbalance in the body leaving working muscles damaged. The body repairs better in a state of alkalinity. Greens and green vegetables are all alkalizing and help the body to replace calcium, magnesium and other trace minerals. Calcium and magnesium help muscles to relax and can help resolve some with sleeping issues. Because greens are comprised mostly of water, they help in rehydration. They also include insoluble fiber which aids digestion and transit time thru the digestive tract and colon.

Your green leafy greens and vegetables include phytonutrients which act as anti-oxidants, chemical compounds that combat stress-induced free radicals we create from exercise, inhaling pollution and holding on to negative thought processes. For endurance athletes, they need as many phytonutrients as they can get - so including them in every meal is the ideal. Phytonutrients are also beneficial as they do provide additional protein, but do not add significant amount of carbohydrates to your meal, (this is why plant based proteins are so vital to a vegetarian or vegan diet, too). You can eat vegetables with grains or you can eat vegetables with proteins. It is versatile option to any meal!

Raw vegetables will be better than cooked because the enzymes included in vegetables are not destroyed by heat. However, you must be careful to chew your foods completely to avoid stomach issues including bloating and gas. If you have trouble with digestion, you may want to start with cooking them first, and increase your raw intake slowly until you eat mainly raw vegetables at every meal.

fuel station 102511One easy ways to incorporate your greens is to add them into a smoothie! I typically suggest kale (can be bitter for many), chard (less bitter, almost sweet) or spinach. Two of my favorites are the Green Monster and Creamy Green Banana smoothies. Adding the greens will boost the protein and phytonutrients content while adding freshness and making the smoothies a little less sweet.

Here are the recipes in case you want to make them.

Creamy Green Banana Smoothie – in blender

  • 1 small banana (about ½ cup)
  • ¼ pineapple
  • 1 tablespoon spirulina or Greens+ powder or 1-2 leaves of kale
  • 5 tablespoons yogurt or ¼ avocado and 2 tbsp protein powder
  • ¼ cup each - pineapple juice and water 

Green Monster Smo0thie

  • 1 apple (or more to taste)
  • 2 leaves of kale
  • 2-4 leaves of romaine lettuce
  • Juice of ½ -1 lemon
  • ½ - 1 inch ginger to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, vein removed (optional)
  • 1 cup apple cider and ½ cup water 

You can also add green vegetables to lunch and dinner. Don’t just make a salad, make a ‘Garbage Salad’ with your romaine or spring mix, then cut in a leaf of kale, dandelion greens, parsley or chard. It will make the salad more interesting just by changing the greens. Then add broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, green beans, sugar snap peas, zucchini or any other green vegetables. Add handful of sunflower seeds, raisins, your protein and sweet potato slices, beans, vinaigrette dressing and you have an awesome meal. One large salad can easily be split it into two meals. You can also try broccoli slaw with a tahini dressing as a new side salad.

If you want to recover faster, you would greatly benefit from including your greens with your recovery meal. Although conventional wisdom suggests that endurance athletes need high levels of complex and starchy carbohydrates, athletes can also benefit from just eating their greens! Your body will thank you for it and you will recover faster than you can remember.

Joanna Chodorowska is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach and founder of Nutrition in Motion – a sports nutrition coaching company specializing in helping athletes reach their potential by changing what they eat. She offers race day nutrition sessions to help athletes develop the right nutrition plan for their everyday, pre-race and race day meals. You can find her at www.n-im.net and on Facebook.

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