Real Food for Real Recovery
By Joanna K Chodorowska
You go to the supermarket and walk through the produce section to aisles stocked with packaged and processed food items. But is that over-processed concoction or meal replacement bar always the best solution? Have you ever considered eating real food?
For most athletes, time is the biggest issue with recovery: not enough time to plan for your post-exercise or post-race meal. Not enough time to actually eat after your morning workout before you get to work. Not enough time to do most of the things we really want to do. And it is typically the nutrition that suffers as a result of this rushing around. Some of the best nutrients are found in food. Yes, real food. Not in a pill or a powder or pre-made shake filled with preservatives, artificial colors and who knows which artificial sweetener. And some of those non-natural foods are actually hurting your recovery and optimal performance because you are now introducing toxins rather than basic nutrients.
Let me provide a little primer on recovery. After exercise, you want to eat a small meal of 200- 400 calories within 30-60 minutes after you have finished. This is the optimal window to help you recover as quickly as possible and replenish those depleted glycogen stores. The longer you wait, the lower your blood sugar falls, which then can lead to binging and overeating in your next meal, therefore taking in too many calories. You need to have protein in that meal, as well as healthy carbohydrates, healthy fats and of course, healthy green vegetables. I will even say dark green vegetables because they have a lot of nutrients you probably never realized would be of any benefit: calcium and magnesium(to help relax those muscles), phytonutrients (helps with recovery from the antioxidant aspect) and water (vegetables are often 70 percent water or more).
Now, how much of each element should you include? In general, shoot for 20-25 grams of protein, 40-60 grams of healthy carbohydrates and 7-10 grams of healthy fats. If you were going to put that into a meal, it might look like 4 slices (3-4 ounces) of turkey breast on a slice or two of multigrain bread (mayo is OK, but don't overdo it) and a huge handful of greens. Add a side salad or ½ cup of sugar snap peas to create a basic meal. But does that work for every meal? If early in the morning, a great post-exercise meal is 3 eggs (2 whites + 1 whole egg) scrambled with spinach (1 cup) and you can also add an ounce of cheese and some spices. Then put that all into a whole wheat wrap and voila – breakfast!
A protein smoothie is also a great alternative that works well. Just blend 1 cup of frozen berries or other fruit like mangos or peaches with a 6-ounce cup of plain yogurt, a tbsp of almond or peanut butter and ½ cup water or milk. If you want more protein, add a tablespoon or two of cottage cheese, or tofu. If you can handle it, throw in a handful of greens for more a powerful kick – that includes parsley, lettuce, spinach or those broccoli stalks.
So instead of wondering what you may have after your next exercise session, try planning your meal ahead of time, and grab a turkey wrap to go! And eat it within 30-60 minutes after you finish working out. Your body will like you later that day and especially the next day for helping it to recover properly.
Joanna K Chodorowska, BA, NC is a sport nutritionist, swim instructor, triathlete coach and competitive triathlete. She is the founder of Nutrition in Motion,specializing in personalized nutrition programs for healthy minded triathletes. She works with real foods and incorporates healthier options as a means to gain better health, strength and fitness, and to help people get started on a lifelong healthy meal plan. Please visit www.nutrition-in-motion.net for more information.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.