We’ve all done it; it’s incredibly easy to skip the last part of the workout, you know, the so-called “cool down”. Truth is though, the last part of that workout, and more importantly the nourishment you give yourself after it, are critical for better performance. Nutrition is vital for good recovery.

Post-Workout Recovery

There are a number of different things that you need to pay attention to when it comes to your nutrition for recovery. Here are the top priorities:

  • Fluid and salt balance – you sweat a lot when you work out; it’s just how it happens. You also lose electrolytes in sweat, so experts recommend that right after a workout you drink a beverage with moderately high levels of sodium and if possible, a little potassium. Depending on the intensity and duration of the workout, you could benefit from drinking water with added electrolytes.  If it’s only a short session, water is fine, if it’s longer, opt for water with added electrolytes or try adding a little extra salt (moderately) to your post-workout food.
  • Carbs – yes, you read that right! Working out depletes our glycogen stores, leaving us low on stores of energy. That’s why after each workout it’s good for you to make sure you eat some carbohydrates. You’ll want to eat within 30 minutes of working out, and it’s best to aim for about 0.5-0.7 grams of carbs per pound of your body weight. Simple carbs should be eaten after scheduled exercise. They are digested quickly for fast energy. Post training, they provide energy to refill your more or less empty glycogen stores – this is vital for the best recovery.
  • Protein – if you’ve worked out for any time at all you know that protein is the key to strengthening and rebuilding your muscles after a workout. As with carbs, you’ll want to eat this fairly soon after your workout, and go for lean protein sources like eggs, fish, and chicken, and turkey.

Post-Race Recovery

A lot of people struggle with eating straight after a race, especially a race over a longer distance, but as with any other workout, it’s important to eat as soon as you can. In the hour after finishing a long race, you can be sure that your glycogen and fluid levels are going to be low, even if you’ve used sports drinks. Restoring your fluid levels and your glycogen, and optimizing protein build-up as soon as possible are the key to optimizing your recovery, and reducing the risk of infection.

If the idea of a full meal sounds daunting, don’t be put off, you don’t have to eat one right away. Instead, try to snack on foods containing carbs and salt. These will help restore your energy, fluid and electrolyte loss. The longer the race, the more important it is to fuel up afterwards for better recovery. Participation in longer races is always demanding for your body, physically and mentally, so it’s important not only to optimize your nutrition intake, but also to make sure you have plenty of time to recover from the physical aspects of the race.

Sleep

Don’t underestimate the power of sleep. While nutrition is important for making sure your body has what it needs, it’s important to also make sure that you allow your body to rest. Some researchers claim that the best way to improve overall athletic performance is through ensuring you get deep sleep, because it’s only in deep sleep when growth hormones are released in our bodies.

What are your favorite ways to rest and recover after workouts and exercise?

Femi A-Williams is a health and fitness convert trying to reconcile a healthy lifestyle and a happy food life. She is 80% whole grain and 20% donut.

All posts by Femi A-Williams