Breaking a sweat is so essential to increasing health and combating stress. When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins, which can make us feel happier and more relaxed. However, exercising can also result in sore muscles, and what we do to recover after working out really matters. Beyond stretching and getting enough shut-eye, the food and drinks that we consume play a pivotal role in helping our muscles repair and strengthen over time and in allowing our bodies to hit the trails all over again the next day.
As a certified health coach, I work with clients on finding forms of exercise that work for their needs and schedules. Exercise can be really fun, and it's best to incorporate a variety of types into your practice. Choose activities that range from strenuous, high-intensity, such as HIIT or spin, to restorative, low-intensity, such as yoga or Pilates.
"Recovering after a training session isn't just about replenishing the fuels used during a workout, but also about resetting the nervous system from 'fight or flight' mode to 'rest and digest' mode," says Todd Nief, owner at SouthLoop Strength & Conditioning, in an email interview with Bustle. It's important to nourish your body with the nutrients it needs to build muscle, prevent soreness and perform better over time. Here are seven food and drinks that are teeming with benefits and are easy to put together right after a tough workout.
1. Greek Yogurt
Research shows that Greek yogurt is beneficial post-workout, as it is high in both protein and healthy, gut-promoting bacteria, which can reduce inflammation. After working out, muscles become inflamed, but by consuming plain, Greek yogurt, you're better able to get your body back to normal. By adding in a few almonds and berries, you can up your protein, antioxidant and fiber count, which will help provide sustainable energy to power you through the rest of the day.
2. Coconut Water
While all liquids will help you recover, as your body becomes dehydrated right after working out, coconut water is particularly helpful after exercise, as it is loaded with potassium to replace lost electrolytes. It has about 470 milligrams per eight ounce serving! Stick with unsweetened brands to limit sugar intake.
"Beets have been proven to help aid recovery and fight inflammation," says Susie Lemmer, running coach and blogger at Suzlyfe, in an email to Bustle. Marinate some beets with balsamic and toss with feta for a light, refreshing salad post-workout. Or sip on some fresh beet juice to enhance hydration and reap the benefits.
4. Protein Shake
Protein shakes provide immediate recovery, especially ones that contain whey protein, advises Nief. "The goal is to include as much of the amino acid, leucine, as possible," he continues. As some people cannot tolerate whey protein, Nief recommends "egg white protein or vegan blends of hemp, rice and pea protein." However, steer clear of those shakes that contain 60g of protein! "You only need 20-30g of protein at a given time," Lemmer recommends, "and it's important to consume within an hour of working out for best results."
5. Tart Cherries
According to studies, tart cherries have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body and speed muscle repair. Whether consumed fresh or in a smoothie, it's a tasty way to benefit your body and gain a hefty dose of antioxidants. If cherries are not in season, frozen will do just fine. Lemmer recommends a post-workout smoothie, one that incorporates tart cherries, healthy fats and protein. Her healthy fat of choice? Avocados! Avocados are high in healthy fats and fiber to keep you satiated for hours.
Research shows that watermelon can relieve muscle soreness by removing lactic acid, a byproduct of exercise, from the body at a high rate. Its high level of the amino acid, L-citrulline, which is also found in garlic and onions, can increase blood flow throughout the body and reduce the occurrence of muscle pain. Eat fresh, throw in a juicer, or pair with cheese, sea salt and mint for a delicious snack.
Eating nuts after working out is a great way to get in enough protein and magnesium to relax and repair tired muscles. While all nuts and nut butters are beneficial, walnuts are particularly helpful, as they contain healthy fats, in the form of omega 3's. Omega 3's reduce inflammation and help you perform better. Other forms include hemp and chia seeds, olives and oily fish, such as salmon.
Soreness post-workout can still happen, especially if you take a new class or work a different muscle that your body isn't used to using. However, with the right bites and sips, you'll be better able to recover and stick with an exercise regimen for the long-term.
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