While many people focus on what they need to eat before a workout or prolonged physical activity, ingesting the right nutrition after your workout is just as important. When you put your body through rigorous activity, your muscles become depleted of certain nutrients. In order to get the most out of your workout, replenishing your muscles and hydrating your body will make the effects of the workout stick longer and more effective.

What’s Going On Inside An Active Body

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There are countless benefits from exercise. Most notably, exercise normalizes levels of glucose — a simple carbohydrate that acts as fuel for the body —, leptin — a protein made in fat cells that communicates with the brain regarding energy levels —, and insulin — a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows the body to process sugar from carbs. In short, exercise boosts the body’s ability to burn sugar-based fuel that would instead be stored as fat.

With that said, exercise affects the body as a whole. Rigorous activity pushes your maximum capacity of oxygen use strengthening your lungs and diaphragm. As your body heats up, blood vessels in the skin dilate releasing not only sweat but also water and salt helping to reduce bloat. Yet, some of the most interesting changes happen in the body’s muscles, in the heart, and in the brain.

Muscles

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To begin, every time muscles are worked they form tiny tears. These tears are completely natural and, as they heal, actually strengthen and grow the muscle. When you are particularly sore after a workout, it’s possible there are more tears than usual. Yet, to get the muscles moving in the first place, they use stores of glucose and adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an energy-carrying molecule. Once these forms of energy are completely used up, the body begins creating more through higher volumes of oxygen generated by blood that is pumped into the muscle itself. When the body switches to this type of energy consumption it’s called anaerobic metabolism.

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If your muscles aren’t receiving enough of oxygen during a workout, they will produce lactic acid. Increased acidity such as lactic acid may cause muscle fatigue. This is why you may feel tired after a particularly strenuous workout. With that said, your body has natural ways of riding itself of lactic acid through sweat, the heart, and the liver. Incorporating an active cool-down into your routine will also help deplete lactic acid and keep soreness away!

Heart

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Heart rate tells a lot about the health of the human body. A resting heart rate refers to the number of times the muscle beats per minute. When a resting heartbeat is high, this indicates current or future cardiovascular issues. With that said, the heart is an incredibly adaptable muscle, especially when it comes to incorporating exercise. When you exercise, your heart rate increases putting higher demands on the heart for more oxygen. Through routine practice, the heart will learn to process blood for oxygen quicker, which leads to a lower resting heart rate and decreased risk of certain cardiovascular issues.

Brain

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Even though exercise is generalized to muscle building, weight management, and cardiovascular health, some of the most significant changes happen within the brain.

Increased blood flow to the brain is synonymous with an ‘awakened’ brain. Basically, the more your workout, the more alert and focused you’ll feel. On top of that, with increased blood comes an increase in certain chemical messages such as endorphins, ‘feel good’ chemicals, and dopamine. It also increases other neurotransmitters such as glutamate, which aids in learning and memory, serotonin, which regulates mood and depression, and gamma-aminobutyric acid, a key neurotransmitter for cognition, behavior, and stress responses.

This boost in brain function has been shown to decrease the risk of stroke and age-related dementia, as well as certain diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

5 Great Post-Workout Foods

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Once you become familiar with the amazing changes, transformations, and activity that takes place within the body during exercise, it becomes clear that nourishment before and after your workout is incredibly important. Replacing essential nutrients that have evacuated the body via sweat or muscle contraction will help boost the effects of the workout.

1. Lentils

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As mentioned above, rigorous workout actually tears and damages muscles. While this is a natural occurrence and leads to healthier, larger, and stronger muscles, it doesn’t hurt to give them a little help hand in healing. One of the best ways to naturally and healthily aid the healing process is through post-workout consumption of protein. When it comes to protein-packed plant-based foods, lentils are king. One cooked cup of lentils serves up a whopping 18 grams of protein. Lentils are also incredibly diverse and can be consumed cold, warm, solo, or in a variety of dishes.

Try a few of these lentil-based snacks for your post-workout protein pump up: Quick Polenta Cakes With Lentils and Veggies, Lentil-Stuffed Peppers, Red Lentil Rice Croquettes, or this quick and easy Lentil Chili Stew-Stuffed Burrito.

2. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potato and Passion Fruit Smoothie/One Green Planet

The first source of energy that your body uses is carbohydrates or sugars. After a rigorous workout, one of the best ways to get back to feeling energized is to restore the depleted energy reserves with wholesome and healthy carbohydrates. Instead of consuming a bowl of pasta, which can make you feel sluggish, try ingesting some recipes that are filled with carbohydrate filled fruits and vegetables.

In particular, sweet potatoes are a great source of healthy carbs, while also offering a tasty treat! Here are a few ideas to get you started with sweet potato recipes: Sweet Potato and Passion Fruit Smoothie, Sweet Potato Plantain Truffles, Sweet Potato Fried Rice,  or this Curried Lentil Stuffed Sweet Potatoes.

3. Quinoa

This popular superfood is also a great way to incorporate gluten-free, whole-grain carbohydrates into your diet. Quinoa can come in handy after a rigorous workout in order to replenish your energy reserves via healthy, plant-based carbs! Quinoa is also a great source of fiber, protein, iron, and vitamin B. Try a few of these quinoa-based snacks: Mozzarella Quinoa Balls, Nutty Quinoa Stuff Delicata Squash, Protein-Packed Breakfast Quinoa Bowl, or this quinoa enhanced Trail Mix Energy Balls.

4. Avocado

3-Ingredient Coconut Avocado Mousse/One Green Planet

While the body uses sugars for energy as a first resource, fats are actually a better and more sustainable resource. After your body has depleted its sugar resources, you’ll begin to burn those healthy fats. Healthy fats also keep you feeling full longer. One of the best sources of healthy fats is avocado.

One cup of raw avocado has a little under 2,700 milligrams of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, as well as 14.7 grams of monounsaturated fat, and 2.7 grams of polyunsaturated fat. Avocado happens to be one of the best plant-based foods for dessert creations! Try a few of these delectable avocado desserts: Fudgy and Decadent Chocolate Avocado Zucchini Cake, 3-Ingredient Coconut Avocado Mousse, 5-Ingredient Avocado Key Lime Pie Popsicles, or this Raw Superfood Avocado Cake.

5. Nuts and Nut Butter

Chocolate Chip Almond Butter Cookies/One Green Planet

Following on the tailcoats of avocado, nuts and nut butter are two more great plant-based resources for healthy fats. They also offer a long list of essential nutrients including protein, fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorous, copper, manganese, and selenium, as well as cancer-fighting and preventing antioxidants. Nuts and nut butter are easy, quick, and tasty plant-based foods that are perfect for a post-workout snack. Where it’s a handful of almonds, the classic ants-on-a-log, or a more complex recipe, nuts are a great way to replenish your body!

Try a few of these nut and nut butter recipes: Baked Basil and Almond-Crusted Tofu, Brazil Nut Fudge, Chocolate Chip Almond Butter Cookies, or these Coconut Snowballs With Macadamia Core.

For more creative snacks and recipes featuring your favorite post-workout plant-based foods, we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!

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