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Post-Workout Nutrition: Don't Wait Until It's Too Late

By Ryan Hutmacher and Sara Haas

The alarm rings and there’s no time for snoozing because you look out the window and the weather is perfect. You start the day with an open-water swim, followed by a grueling tempo bike ride. Then it’s off to work and at 6:00pm you’ll be heading to the park for an interval training run with your fellow triathletes. Likely you are exhilarated after all of this effort, but possibly exhausted as well. Don’t let that exhaustion get in the way of properly nourishing your body! If you aren’t re-fueling yourself after each of these workouts, you could be throwing all of that amazing training out the window.  

granola and fruitPost-workout or “recovery” nutrition is imperative for endurance athletes. To begin with, it is necessary for the replacement of the fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat.  A recovery meal or snack that includes carbohydrates contributes to the replenishment of your body’s energy or glycogen stores. Glycogen is a storage form of carbohydrate that is utilized as your body’s primary fuel source during exercise. In addition to fluids, electrolytes, and carbohydrates, athletes also need to include protein in their recovery meal or snack. During exercise, little tears occur in your muscle tissue. These tears are a product of protein catabolism. Protein helps negate catabolism by repairing the damaged muscle tissue while promoting the growth of new tissue.  

The next big questions are when and how much? Athletes working out for more than 90 minutes need to consume a meal or snack within at least 30 minutes after exercise. The recommendation of the American Dietetic Association is to consume 1-1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight. This allows for maximum replenishment of glycogen stores. In addition to carbohydrates, athletes should also include a small amount, about 10-20 grams, of lean protein with their recovery meal or snack.

Good examples of recovery foods include: a banana with 2 tablespoons of almond or other nut butter, 1 cup of low-fat Greek yogurt topped with your favorite whole-grain cereal and chopped almonds, a toasted whole wheat English muffin filled with sliced turkey breast and topped with 2 tablespoons hummus or baba ganoush. Even frozen whole-grain waffles topped with yogurt or peanut butter are a good option. If the thought of consuming solid food soon after a workout sounds unappealing, don’t skip it altogether. Instead, reach for a smoothie, made with fresh fruit and plain yogurt.  This is an easy and efficient way of replenishing your body stores. See our recipe below for inspiration!

Enjoy your summer training, but don’t forget to thank your body after a hard workout. Fuel it with the food it needs to keep you powering through your upcoming workouts and races.

Strawberry Spinach Smoothie with Cashew Butter

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 each banana, torn into 2 or 3 pieces
  • 1/2 cup strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 2 tbsp creamy cashew butter
  • 1/2 cup spinach
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • ice cubes (optional)

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until well-combined. Serve immediately.

Sources:
Clark, N. 2008. Sports Nutrition Guidebook, 4th ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Dunford, M. 2006. Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals, 4th ed. Chicago: American Dietetic Association.

Chef Ryan Hutmacher is owner of Centered Chef Food Studios in Chicago, Ill.  Centered Chef is a wellness focused culinary consulting and educational firm that fuses nutrition with culinary arts.  With a focus on natural ingredients, Ryan celebrates the idea reinventing "health food", proving that nutritious and delicious are equally attainable.  His expertise is notable within the marathon and triathlon community in Chicago, as well as within the corporate sector.  Partnerships in culinary wellness programming include athlete runner programs like Team determiNation/ACS, Team CF, TEAM to End Aids, Fleet Feet Sports, Chicago Area Runners Association, Chicago Endurance Sports, Chicago TriMonster, and Fitness Formula Clubs. .  

Along with his staff dietitian and co-writer, Chef Sara Haas (RD/LDN), Ryan appears both locally and nationally on television stations like WGN Superstation, where they give practical solutions to preparing food both easily and healthfully. 

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