So you’ve sorted your gym routine and you’re getting your workouts in but now you’re getting hungry! What are the best foods to eat to support your workouts and help you get the most out of them?
#1 High quality protein
If you’re working out at a higher level than you’re used to then it’s worth ensuring you’re getting enough high quality protein in. This doesn’t necessarily mean protein shakes and it shouldn’t be on top of your daily calorie intake – it should be incorporated into what you eat each day. If you eat dairy then a good whey protein is one option – it provides all the amino acids you need for protein synthesis and muscle repair, and helps fat loss by balancing insulin levels. Most commercial protein powders are whey so you can take your pick but do try to go for one that is as natural as possible, and not full of sugar etc. If you’re avoiding dairy then go for a good non-whey powder – my go to is the Pure Form Fitness Vanilla Protein Powder (available here) one which also provides you with everything you need for post-workout recovery. Make up a shake or smoothie (great recipes here) and have half before your workout and half after as part or all of your meal (for me it’s usually breakfast). If you don’t want to go for a shake then ensure you’re including other high quality proteins in your meals – eggs, tofu, lean meat and fish etc.
#2 Carbs baby
If you are going to eat high carb foods then the best time is post-workout. This doesn’t mean you can reach for the junk food, go for high quality slower release carbs like sweet potato, wholegrains (brown rice), oats etc. These are harder to overeat and will help you recover the muscles’ glycogen stores and balance your blood sugars. They recommend eating half your body weight in grams of carb after a heavy workout e.g. if you weigh 60 kg then that’s 30 g of carb which is about one sweet potato (note – it’s 30 g of carbs, not the food itself).
#3 Have an Avo
Avocado’s are rich in good fats and B vitamins. The fats are crucial for helping you to absorb vitamins such as A and E which are vital for healthy metabolic functioning. This combined with the B vitamins aid recovery and repair of those muscles and reduce the body’s cortisol levels (which is the stress hormone) which also aids recovery. Plus they taste good! They are higher in calories so don’t go mad but certainly try to include in your main meals or shake.
#4 Berry good indeed…
Dark coloured fruits and berries, notably blueberries, cherries and blackcurrants, aid performance, increase fat burning during exercise and speed up muscle recovery. A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that subjects who drank 24 oz of fresh cherry juice every day experienced less muscle soreness and, more importantly reduced loss of strength after exercise. Blackcurrant extract (300 mg) has also been shown to increase fat oxidation (fat burning) by 15 – 27% during low to high intensity exercise. They’re also full of antioxidants which help with muscle recovery and repair and also keep the immune system boosted and functioning well. So try to get lots of these sorts of fruits in your diet.
#5 Step away from the coffee…
It’s very tempting to nip in to the cafe post workout for your cappuccino but although coffee and caffeine specifically has been shown to increase performance during a workout (by reducing the perceived effort and meaning you can work harder than you think you can!) which makes it a good option to have before you do your workout, it’s not such a good thing to have after a workout. Caffeine causes the stress hormone cortisol to increase which inhibits recovery and muscle repair. So have your coffee before you workout, and go for something loaded with antioxidants and vitamin C (like a cherry juice!) for afterwards.
#6 Get your omega’s in
As mentioned above in relation to avocados, you do need good fats in your diet to help to aid recovery. They help to accelerate the delivery of antioxidant fat-soluble vitamins such as A and E to the muscles, which speeds recovery. They also reduce inflammation (which is a product of exercising the muscles), help to balance blood sugar levels by improving insulin sensitivity and increase protein synthesis (muscle repair). So include oily fish, nuts, seeds etc in your diet to ensure you’re getting enough, and if you aren’t or you workout a lot then consider taking a good quality Omega 3, 6 and 9 supplement with your post workout shake/meal (I use this one).
#7 Boost your magnesium levels
Magnesium helps the muscles function better and has been shown in studies to increase energy levels and endurance during a workout. It also helps to reduce muscles cramps and speed up recovery. Magnesium-rich foods include almonds, cashews, peanuts, spinach, broccoli, rice and beans. So ensure to either grab a handful of nuts as your post workout snack, or include them in your smoothie.
#8 Bedtime snack
Having a high protein snack as the last food before you go to bed is a great way to further support your workouts and recovery. Studies have shown that having 40g of protein last thing at night increases muscle repair by 25% overnight. Any complete protein will do but if you’re a bit of a dessert fan then something like greek yoghurt is a great option!
Give these tips a go and see how you get on!
This article is written by Dr Nancy Priston. Please remember, she isn’t a medical Dr, the information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your GP or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this site.