What are the Best Foods for Recovery?
Plus, an overlooked recovery tip for outside the kitchen.
I love this question because it tells me this person is thinking about eating real, whole foods rather than choosing supplements to support their recovery.
You want to choose food that supports those systems that get hit the hardest during training: musculoskeletal, digestive, adrenals, and digestion. Protein aids in the repair and regeneration of muscles, carbohydrates rebuild glycogen stores, and healthy fats (especially in the form of essential fatty acids – EFAs) will help repair cell membranes mainly by decreasing inflammation which allows for greater blood flow (think: oxygen) and quicker removal of waste byproducts. In addition, there are vitamins and minerals that can also assist the recovery and regeneration such as vitamins D and C (for bones and repair of soft tissues, respectively) and the minerals zinc and calcium (for immune system and skeletal systems).
Choose nutrient-dense, high quality foods post-workout, as well as foods that are easy to digest. The adage, “choose quality over quantity,” rings true here. Choose plant or animal-based protein sources that are well-tolerated after a workout (sometimes my appetite is depressed after a workout so I’ll just have a smoothie with a plant-based protein powder). Eat smart carbs, that is, carbs that won’t spike your blood sugar. Look for carbs that are low on the glycemic index list, and add some healthy fats, such as avocado, flax seed meal, nuts/seeds or nut butters, various oils, or fatty fish such as salmon to optimize your fat intake. There’s a multitude of combinations that could meet these criteria. I’m personally a fan of bowls as I know I can get everything I need for recovery into one big bowl that is united by spices and herbs.
Finally, remember to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate to replenish electrolytes that are eliminated during exercise. If you don’t like the flavor of plain water, try coconut water, or consider adding a Nuun tab to your bottle. Or throw in a slice of lemon, fresh peppermint leaf, a slice of cucumber, or some berries into a diffuser.
Recovery Outside the Kitchen
Younger athletes tend to recover much quicker than master athletes – for instance, when I was younger I could put in back-to-back days of hard workouts and still feel ready to race on the weekends. Now, as a master athlete, I need to purposefully build-in recovery time to make sure I am ready for weekend races. Some days, it’s active recovery and other days, it’s passive recovery (make an appointment to try out Norma-Tec Boots at Fleet Feet for recovery. You get the best of both worlds – it’s active and passive recovery combined!).
Beyond this, the importance of sleep should not be underestimated in the role of recovery. Too many people are sleep deprived these days. This doesn’t do the body any favors when you’re an athlete since most of your recovery and regeneration will occur during a peaceful slumber. Aim to get in little extra sleep on hard workout days --- either go to bed 20 minutes early or toss in a nap on the weekends. Maximizing your recovery will depend on your diet and sleep.
Katina Sayers is the owner/operator of Katina’s Nutritional Coaching Corner. She has an extensive background in health and education that began with degrees in exercise physiology, health and physical education, community health, and culminating with a doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction. She completed an advanced certificate of study in Integrative Nutrition and Health Coaching from the renowned Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) in New York City. For the last four years, she has worked one-on-one with clients, presented a multitude of nutrition topics for large and small audiences, contracted with businesses to implement worksite wellness initiatives, and currently manages day-to-day food service operations at a local non-profit agency, as well as directs activities related to nutrition and health. Katina can be reached at email@example.com.