Post-workout: how to boost clients’ exercise recovery
Post-workout recovery is a complex process that involves more than just stretching. Here’s everything you need to know about science-backed post-workout techniques to help clients with exercise recovery.
It’s no secret that exercise can leave anyone feeling physically and mentally tired, which is why post-workout recovery is important to prioritize. But between thinking about sleep habits, sore muscles, and stretching sessions, many people may find exercise recovery overwhelming. Add energy intake to the mix, and this process becomes even more complex, especially since nutrition misinformation is widely prevalent.
Unfortunately, studies show that athletes tend to lack nutrition knowledge and adequate dietary intake, with women having negative perceptions towards carbohydrate intake. As a dietitian, you can help your athletic clients better understand nutrition and the impact it has on performance and recovery. You can also provide curated dietary recommendations and wellness tips that will help boost performance, enhance post-workout recovery, and reduce the risk of injury.
Before we dive into how you can help your clients boost exercise recovery, let’s discuss what to eat after a workout, and why post-workout strategies are important.
Why is post-workout nutrition important?
Eating after a workout is important because the food your client eats helps their body repair muscle damage, build up muscle, and replenish energy stores.
While the duration and intensity of your client’s workout will determine their recovery needs, the three main goals of post-workout nutrition are to replenish glycogen stores, repair damaged muscles, and rehydrate.
Since every client will have different post-workout nutrition needs based on the type, duration, and frequency of their workouts, it’s important to work with each one individually to find what combination of foods works best for them.
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Foods to eat after a workout
What your clients consume post-workout will set the stage for their recovery and future workouts. Here’s what to eat after a workout, according to science.
Carbohydrates are one of the most important macronutrients when it comes to exercise performance. They are stored primarily within the muscles and liver and help to maintain blood glucose and replace muscle glycogen, especially when consumed post-workout.
Studies have found that the 30-minute window after exercise is important for refueling and replenishing glycogen stores. Since there is increased blood flow and insulin sensitivity during this time, it’s recommended for athletes to consume 1.0-1.5 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight . It’s also suggested that a high dose of carbs (8 - 10 g/kg of body weight/day) may further stimulate muscle glycogen resynthesis during this 30-minute window.
However, depending on the type of exercise performed, this amount of carbohydrate may not be appropriate for everyone. A recreational gym grower’s exercise routine will look vastly different from a professional football player, so it’s important to work with your clients to evaluate their exercise schedule, and plan their carbohydrate intake around their energy output.
While carbs are important for energy, they are not all created equal. Both can be used for post-workout nutrition, but it’s important to know the difference between them.
- Simple carbohydrates are used in the body as quick energy, and are naturally found in dairy products and fruits, as well as added to foods in the form of refined sugars.
- Complex carbohydrates are more slowly digested, provide a steady supply of energy, offer vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and can help reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases. Some dietary sources include whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables.
Protein is a major key in post-workout nutrition, as it has been shown to ease soreness, speed up recovery, help repair muscles, and stimulate post-workout muscle protein synthesis. Furthermore, studies have shown eating protein after a workout may maximize muscle repair and optimize strength.
For building and maintaining muscle mass, studies show that 1.4–2.0 g protein/kg body weight/day is sufficient for active adults and athletes; however, nutrition experts state that 20 g of protein (or up to 0.4 g/kg of body weight) is sufficient for post-workout nutrition.
Interestingly, studies show that having a carb-to-protein ratio of 3 - 4:1 may further enhance glycogen resynthesis.
Some dietary sources of protein include poultry (chicken and turkey), red meat (beef and lamb), fish, dairy, legumes, eggs, and tofu.
TIP: Read this article to get to know how to use protein to boost sports performance.
Fat is the primary fuel for light to moderate-intensity exercise and provides energy for muscles during endurance exercise. While it’s an important macronutrient, it’s not always necessary to include this as part of your client’s post-workout nutrition plan.
However, you can pair some nutritious dietary fat sources (such as nuts, seeds, fatty fish, avocado, and extra-virgin olive oil) with a carb and protein source to further round out your client’s recovery meal.
Hydration plays an important role in performance, injury prevention, and recovery for athletes and gym-goers alike. While water is important, you can also encourage your client to rehydrate with a sports drink, since this will have essential electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, phosphate, and magnesium) to replenish those lost through sweat.
TIP: This water intake recommendations guide complements the water intake features already included in Nutrium and it will help nutrition professionals skim through summarized information quicker.
The timing of your post-workout meal matters
Nutrient timing is an important part of post-workout recovery, as it uses the timing of the energy intake and the ratio of certain macronutrients to best enhance recovery and muscle growth.
Studies show that eating a mixture of carbohydrates and protein within 4 hours after a workout can lead to significant recovery, improved athletic performance, and have an impact on muscle glycogen recovery.
Here are some post-workout meal ideas that you may want to consider with your clients:
- Brown rice and boneless skinless chicken breast.
- Vegetable egg scramble with toast.
- Nut or seed butter on toast.
- Fruit smoothie with nonfat Greek yogurt or another tolerated dairy, nut butter, some water, and ice.
- Whole grain wrap with avocado, lean meat, and greens.
Post-workout routine: tips for sore muscles
After a workout, it’s common for muscles to experience microdamage, which can lead to soreness. Although nutrition plays a vital role in recovery, here are some other post-workout habits that your clients may find helpful.
- Using a foam roller. Studies have found that using a foam roller may improve joint range of motion and promote muscle performance.
- Stretching. Stretching muscles after a workout can increase the range of motion and muscle flexibility, which may prevent future injuries from occurring.
- Cold water immersion. This method of muscle soreness management causes vasoconstriction of blood vessels, which may delay the onset of muscle soreness.
What to avoid when recovering from working out
Recovering from a workout is essential to restore energy, prevent injury, and promote fitness and health goals. To ensure your athletes and clients are maximizing recovery periods, here is what every athlete should avoid when recovering from a workout.
Rehydrating with the wrong beverages
Hydration is a vital component of post-workout nutrition, but drinking the wrong types of beverages can negatively affect recovery.
For instance, sports drinks often contain electrolytes, but many of these products contain high amounts of added sugar, which can worsen symptoms of dehydration. Similarly, drinking alcohol after a workout can promote dehydration, which can hinder recovery.
To ensure your clients stay hydrated, encourage them to drink enough water, and to choose sports drinks that have limited amounts of added sugar.
Not getting enough sleep
Sleep is important for all aspects of health, especially when it comes to recovery. Experts claim that it is impossible to perform, recover, and grow without adequate sleep. Furthermore, sleep plays a role in stress management, nutrition, hormone regulation, and decision-making.
Encourage your clients to get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night for a boost in their overall health, performance, and recovery.
Forgoing the cooldown period
Cooling down after a workout is one of the most important parts of an exercise routine, as this time allows for the heart rate to slow and blood pressure to return to normal. If your client skips this step in their workout routine, it may theoretically increase the risk of injury during a subsequent training session.
To help avoid this, you can remind your clients to spend 5 - 10 minutes cooling down after each workout.
Post-workout recovery is a complex process that involves more than just stretching. Energy intake and certain recovery techniques are key when it comes to boosting performance and minimizing the risk of injury. As a dietitian, you can work with your clients to ensure they eat the right nutrition at the right time to feel their best and take care of their bodies.
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