Recovery after exercise is just as important (if not more) than the exercises you do while you’re working out. The body can only run off what we give it, and what we give it determines our health in more ways than one. After exercise, the body needs to be refueled with a delicate mix of protein and carbohydrates from quality foods. Not cheap protein shakes, fast food, processed bars, or junk food. Good, clean food is what it needs. Muscles can utilize these foods better than anything else, and these foods are better for our blood sugar which should be considered post-workout too.
What Happens in the Body Post-Workout
After we workout, our cortisol levels are normally high while insulin is usually low. This happens because we’ve put stress on the body which then causes stress hormones to pump out more abundantly in the body (namely cortisol) and insulin levels drop because glucose has been depleted which lowers blood sugar levels. This might be one reason you feel so hungry after you workout and are more likely to just grab something to help yourself feel better. Blood sugar should be managed by eating something that will provide quality carbohydrates to the body, but also to allow those carbs to enter in rapidly into the bloodstream so they can help reach muscle cells and replenish muscle glycogen stores. The key is not to choose refined carbs, but whole food based carbs.
Protein should also be restored, which is best utitlized by muscle cells when carbs are eaten with them. Quality carbs help drive amino acids from protein into the muscle cells where they are needed most. While refined sugars will do that just fine too, they will also disrupt insulin levels and are more likely to leave you fatigued not long after. Not to mention they can lead to weight gain and inflammation, which is most definitely not what you want post-workout, right?
So, now that you know what your body needs post-workout, here are 10 great plant-based options to give a try:
Fruit is a high in natural sugars, which makes it best to consume either before or right after your workout. This will allow your muscles to use the sugars from the fruit either for energy, or for restoring glycogen back in the muscle cells to aid in repair and blood sugar regulation. Their fibers will help prevent nasty drops in blood sugar later as well. Just keep in mind, you don’t need a lot of fruit to get the benefits — just a piece or one serving. Fruit is healthy for us, but too much isn’t necessarily more effective. Choose some berries, an apple, a banana, or perhaps some anti-inflammatory cherries, pineapple, or mango. Whatever you like!
2. Hemp Protein
Hemp protein powder is a great post-workout meal idea because though it does contain healthy fats, it’s lower in fat than whole hemp seeds and higher in protein per serving. Hemp protein is generally anywhere from 4-5 grams of fat per serving and 15-16 grams of protein. It’s also an anti-inflammatory protein that’s great at reducing muscle aches and fatigue thanks to the natural magnesium and iron found in hemp. Choose natural, plain hemp protein instead of sweetened options. If you don’t like hemp protein, there are other comparable options like brown rice or pea protein you can try, however, no other single plant-based protein offers the complete full spectrum of nutrition benefits that hemp does. You can also find a blend of hemp, pea, and rice protein, along with some others like flax, hemp and pea, etc. Use hemp protein in a post-workout smoothie to get the best benefits, preferably with a piece of fruit to assist with complete nutrition and taste.
3. Sweet Potatoes
If you’re up to sitting down for a meal right after you eat, choose sweet potatoes for a healthy carb source. They’re rich in natural sugars but won’t spike your blood sugar like refined carbs or even regular potatoes do. They also offer up trytophan, an animo acid that relaxes the body and reduces stress hormones like cortisol. Sweet potatoes are also a good source of potassium, which also helps lower stress hormones and high blood pressure. Not to mention that potassium-rich foods also restore electrolytes in the body that are often depleted right after a workout.
4. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds make a great post-workout addition to a smoothie because they’re full of amino acids, even though not very high in protein or carbs. They’re also a good source of fiber, potassium, magnesium, and iron to restore balance to the body after a workout. They can also slow down the insulin spike that might happen when you eat natural sugars such as fruit, but still allow your body to absorb them for optimal repair. Chia seeds are also great options when you’re looking to lower inflammation thanks to their omega-3 fatty acids.
Lentils are a good source of both protein and carbs, which makes them a great post-workout meal choice. They’re also fairly easy to digest for most people, which is important right after a workout for optimal absorption. (Just don’t eat them before your workout — they’re very high in fiber!) Try topping your sweet potato with lentils, adding them to a salad, or even adding some lentils and sweet potatoes to some broth to make a quick soup. You can also make lentil sweet potato veggie burgers as another option.
6. A Green Smoothie
A green smoothie is probably one of the most popular post-workout options we have available to us today. They’re amazing sources of antioxidants, fiber, anti-inflammatory chlorophyll, iron, B vitamins, magnesium, and are so easy to add protein to! Use greens like spinach, berries, chia seeds, some plant-based protein powder, and either a small piece of banana or some stevia to sweeten. Green smoothies are also easy to make in a flash when you need some quick replenishment.
7. Almonds and Figs/or Dates
If you like quick bites or bars after a workout, make some or buy some with a base of almonds and figs or almonds and dates. These two combinations are a wonderful blend of fiber, natural sugars, and plant-based protein. They also offer up amino acids, B vitamins, and magnesium. Add some hemp seeds to the mix, and you’re really in for a delicious, nutritious (and filling) snack!
Spinach is a remarkable source of plant-based protein, iron, magnesium, and B vitamins. It makes a great green to include post-workout either in a smoothie, or with some plant-based protein and another healthy carb (like lentils and sweet potatoes) because it’s filling, anti-inflammatory, and delicious! Keeping some organic spinach on hand is a great practice since you’ll always have it for meals of all kinds, and to use in your post-workout regimen.
If you love oats, good news — they love you right back! This is especially true after a workout when your body needs carbs and protein all at once. Oats contain not just fiber, but also other quality carbs your muscles can immediately put to use to restore energy and aid in muscle repair. If you don’t eat oats, you can also try quinoa as another option. Oats and quinoa both provide quality sources of protein, with around 4-5 grams per serving, though quinoa is a complete source of protein while oats are not.
10. Pumpkin Seeds
Snacking on a few pumpkin seeds or adding them to your smoothie is a fantastic way to get in some plant-based protein, iron, and magnesium. All of these aid in repairing your muscle cells, but their high alkaline feature and high amino acid profile are what really makes pumpkin seeds so awesome. These tiny seeds reduce inflammation, keep your blood sugar stable, promote a more positive mood, and yes, keep you lean and fit too! They’re also a great source of zinc to improve your immune health, which can be depleted without proper post-workout nutrition.
So fellow Green Monsters, conquer your post-workout with full confidence with these 10 foods. If you have some other favorite post-workout meal ideas, we’d love to hear them! How do you make sure your body receives what it needs after a good workout?
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