By Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD
As a sports nutritionist I consult for teams, work with professional athletes in numerous sports, and counsel fitness enthusiasts who engage in activities ranging from aquatics to Zumba and everything in between. Whether you’re a pro or weekend warrior, one thing is certain: after you’ve worked up a sweat, optimal nutrition helps maximize the results of your hard work.
Post-workout your body is primed for recovery. The right ingredients may help replenish nutrients used up during exercise, and supply the raw materials necessary to heal from the wear your body just endured. Skipping a meal or snack after exercise can leave you weaker rather than stronger, and more vulnerable to injuries.
So, what should you eat?
Below, I outline some general guidelines that may help with your post-exercise recovery. Keep in mind that because individual needs will differ based on varying factors including activity level and body composition, it’s best to meet with a registered dietitian for personalized recommendations.
Here are five steps that may help prime recovery.
Step 1: Load up on produce
Include fruits and vegetables to infuse your meal with a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants. 1-2 Two of my go-tos are green veggies and frozen fruit. I personally enjoy frozen red raspberries because they are one of the lowest in sugar content compared to other berries, and they’re a rich source of vitamin C, packing 60% of the Daily Value per cup.
Step 2: Include lean protein
Protein is a building block of muscle, so including it in a post-workout meal or snack is a must. 3 Opt for nutrient-dense, lean sources.
Step 3: Add in a healthy fat
Fat is an essential component of every cell in your body.4 In fact, fats also boost the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.5 The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a diet plan that substitutes good fats, such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats in place of saturated and trans fats. 6 This guidance also applies to athletes. 7
Step 4: Opt for whole food carbs
Carbohydrates serve as fuel providers. Post-workout or in between workouts, including small portions may help replenish the energy used during training. 7,8 The best choices are nutrient-rich foods, as close to their natural state as possible, including whole grains and starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and squash.
Step 5: Doctor it up with herbs and spices
Include herbs and spices to add a little flavor, aroma, and color to your meal. Experiment with new combinations, like whipping cinnamon or mint to smoothies, adding dried or fresh herbs to vinaigrette, and doctoring up veggies, proteins, and whole grains with natural seasonings, including basil, cilantro, rosemary, garlic, and ginger.
I’ve partnered with the National Processed Raspberry Council to share my love for frozen raspberries. In addition to being convenient, their sweet and tart flavors work well in a variety of recipes.
Here are three of my personal favorites.
In a blender combine one cup of frozen raspberries, one small ripe banana, one small raw chopped zucchini, a scoop of vanilla flavored pea protein powder, two tablespoons of almond butter, one cup of almond milk, two tablespoons of dry rolled oats, and a half teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
In a small bowl whisk together one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar with one teaspoon each of stone ground mustard, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and Italian herb seasoning. Add one can of wild salmon and mix to coat salmon with the dressing. Place two cups of baby spinach in a salad bowl and top with the salmon mixture, along with a half cup of cooked, chilled quinoa, one cup of frozen, thawed red raspberries, and half of an avocado.
In a medium pan over low heat, sauté a quarter cup of mined yellow onion in a quarter cup of organic low-sodium vegetable broth until onions are translucent. Add one cup of broccoli florets, a teaspoon of minced garlic, quarter teaspoon of fresh grated ginger, one eighth teaspoon each of crushed red pepper and black pepper, and one tablespoon of water. Sauté for a few minutes, until broccoli is slightly tender. Add three ounces of cooked diced chicken breast and one quarter cup of cooked wild rice and stir for an additional two to three minutes. Add one cup of frozen raspberries to heat through, transfer to plate, and garnish with a quarter cup of sliced almonds.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD, is one of the first registered dietitians to be Board Certified as a Specialist in Sports Dietetics. Sass has consulted for four professional teams, and counsels a wide variety of athletes and active people in New York City, Los Angeles, and long-distance. Cynthia is also a three-time New York Times bestselling author and recipe developer, specializing in clean, performance-enhancing cuisine. Her latest book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches With Pulses – The New Superfood.
- Slavin JL, Lloyd B. Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables. Advances in Nutrition. 2012;3(4):506-516. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3649719/
- MyPlate & What Is A Serving Of Fruits And Vegetables? Fill Half Your Plate. Fruits & Veggies More Matters. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/myplate-and-what-is-a-serving-of-fruits-and-vegetables
- Phillips SM, Van Loon LJ. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of sports sciences. 2011;29 Suppl 1:S29-38.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22150425.
- You Are What You Eat. ChemHealthWeb. National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Updated August 9, 2012. https://publications.nigms.nih.gov/chemhealth/eat.htm
- National Research Council (US) Subcommittee on the Tenth Edition of the Recommended Dietary Allowances. Recommended Dietary Allowances: 10th Edition. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 7, Fat-Soluble Vitamins.Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK234920/
- S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8thEdition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/
- Thomas DT., Erdman AE., Burke L., Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance . The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2016; 116 (3); 501-528
- Burke LM, Kiens B, Ivy JL. Carbohydrates and fat for training and recovery. Journal of sports sciences. 2004 Jan; 22(1): 15-30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14971430