Everyone has busy lives these days. Whether it means driving the kids to and from practice, rushing to the office or fitting in a slew of errands after your workout, it usually means we have little time to think about proper post-workout fueling, much less make it a priority. And, it should be because what you eat directly following a workout is perhaps the most critical food choice of your entire day. Even if you consider yourself a healthy eater, if you're neglecting proper consumption during the 30-minute window immediately following exercise, you're missing out on important recovery power.
Take my friend and former co-worker Gina Lucrezi for example. The 31-year-old trail runner who lives in Boulder, Colorado, is maybe the most stubborn person I know. While this is an excellent trait because it makes her both a strong professional and athlete, it also has its downsides. For years (two literally), I tried to convince Gina to eat or drink a protein shake immediately after our midday runs when we returned to our desks before getting back to work. She didn't eat. I did, though. And I'll tell you, the next day, I always felt better.
Now, let's fast forward to 2014. After an afternoon of heady sports nutrition research on the Internet Gina finally decided post-workout fueling made sense. DING! And just like that, she was finishing every run with a shake chock full of protein, carbs, vitamins and minerals designed to help restore much-need glycogen to her muscles. And, voila, she now feels better the next day, too.
"There's a noticeable difference,"¬ù she says. "I used to always feel sluggish for the first few miles and I had a hard time getting into the swing of my workouts. After drinking a recovery drink as soon as I'm done running now, though, my legs feel refreshed from the start the next day."
But why does it work for Gina and me and why should you, too, heed this advice? Well, for starters, when you finish a workout, your body is in a state of muscle exhaustion and insulin sensitivity. This means that it's the perfect time to quickly absorb nutrients because your body is, essentially, craving them.
You want protein and carbs (while the exact ratio is debated, it's safe to go with 3 to 4:1). This will help your muscles rebuild, help your body recover (including refilling your glycogen stores, which burn out when you participate in exercises geared toward exhaustion). If nothing else, remember this: Taking advantage of this window will not only improve your strength in the gym, on the bike or on the road the next day, but also during the rest of your life's demands.
Try a Peanut Butter, Avocado and Chocolate Banana Smoothie:
1 cup chocolate almond milk
1/2 Hass Avocado
1 frozen, ripe banana
6 oz plain yogurt
1 T creamy peanut butter
2 t honey