Exercise, whilst very good for us, is a form of stress. This is because it places demand on the body. Exercise can lead to small amounts of damage to our muscle fibres, which require energy and nutrients to rectify. This 'damage' is good, as this causes us to adapt and become fitter – but it still places stress on the body and requires an immune response and specific nutrients to resolve the 'damage'.
This is why post-exercise nutrition is so important. Ensuring we provide our body with the nutrients it needs helps it to recover and adapt adequately. So, what are these nutrient requirements? Primarily, carbs and protein. Carbohydrates are required to replenish energy stores, while protein is essential for muscle recovery. Research shows that combining the two helps with the absorption and use of each nutrient, which improves exercise recovery.
As well as this, eating fruits and vegetables which are rich in vitamins vital for all bodily processes and immune-boosting omega-3's is also important. Here are six foods which are great choices to help with exercise recovery.
A complete source of protein, eggs include all of the essential amino acids we need to get from our diet. This makes them a great post-exercise choice, as they provide a variety of amino acids to help our muscles recover. One particular amino acid is leucine, which is essential for muscle growth and repair. So whether you like them scrambled, poached, runny or hard-boiled – put eggs on your post-exercise menu.
This delicious orange root vegetable is a fantastic source of carbohydrates, just what your body needs. Sweet potatoes also have a low GI (glycaemic index) meaning their energy is released slowly, having less of an impact on blood sugar levels than a white potato might. Sweet potatoes are a rich source of vitamins A and C, both of which are important for immunity and keeping cells healthy – definitely a bonus to include after a bout of exercise.
Dairy foods such as milk and yogurt are another fantastic source of protein, which is vital for adequate post-exercise recovery. Dairy-free alternatives can sometimes be a good source of protein, for example soya milk. But some, such as almond and oat milk, are not as high in protein as dairy versions, so check the label of your chosen milk/yogurt. Mixing yogurt with fresh fruit makes it a great protein and carb post-exercise recovery snack. Or read on for your excuse to indulge in chocolate milk!
Fish such as salmon is not only a great source of protein, but also healthy fats called omega-3 fatty acids. These are beneficial to heart health, play a role in immunity and have anti-inflammatory properties too. This makes them a good choice to include when recovering from exercise to help support our immune response after tissue damage.
If there was such a thing as a 'superfood' I'd say quinoa would be up there. This grain is a source of fibre, complete protein, zinc and B vitamins making it a fantastic post-exercise choice. You'll be replenishing carbs and protein in one hit, while also stocking up on some immune-boosting zinc. B vitamins play a role in releasing the energy in the foods we eat, so we definitely want to be in good supply of these if we are exercising regularly.
A diet rich in various fruits and vegetables should always feature highly in everyone's meal planning, and especially so for people who exercise regularly. Fruits and vegetables are firstly a source of carbohydrates, meaning they're a good choice post exercise to help replenish our glycogen (stored carb) stores, but they're also full of important vitamins and minerals. From vitamin C for immunity and healthy cells, to magnesium for muscle and nerve function, fruits and vegetables pack a powerful nutritional punch. They're also rich in antioxidants which help to keep our cells healthy – definitely helpful post-exercise!
To help with practical ideas, here are some meal combinations to try, incorporating some of these exercise recovery foods!
This is a fantastic meal choice post-exercise! Chicken is an excellent source of lean protein, while sweet potatoes provide a healthy carb source. And including some vegetables will give you important vitamins and minerals to help your body function at its best.
Eggs are a fantastic source of complete protein, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids our body needs from our diet. Combining eggs with toast makes for a perfect protein and carb fuelled post-workout meal.
Quinoa is a very healthy choice of grain, it's rich in protein and carbohydrates making it an excellent all-rounder. Adding some additional protein from either feta, chicken or fish will make this a fantastic high protein post-workout meal.
Greek yogurt is a great protein source, containing more than other types of yogurts. Mix with granola and berries for added carbs and vitamins, and you have a tasty post-workout snack.
That's right, a simple chocolate milkshake has been shown to be great post-workout fuel! It has just the right blend of carbohydrates and protein, while also being quickly absorbed to aid faster recovery.
If your goal is to lose weight, just be mindful of calories and ensure any post-workout foods are factored into your daily allowance. It's very easy to overcompensate after exercising and eat a large snack, which will wipe out any calorie deficit your workout creates.
Emma White (Certified Personal Trainer) has always loved fitness. She's passionate about the many benefits of regular exercise, particularly the positive impact on mental health and overall quality of life, as well as how it provides the key to successful weight management.