Hard Workout? Nutrition Recovery Tips

Athletes come in all shapes, sizes, and skill levels. One thing that remains consistent with all athletes – whether you’re a professional athlete or a weekend warrior – recovery is extremely important. During exercise our muscles break down, and in order to recover efficiently proper nutrition (and the timing of it) is crucial.

An important nutrition component of building healthy, strong muscles is protein. Protein is the building block of all the cells in our bodies, especially our muscles. It is therefore essential we consume enough of it. You’ve heard that post-workout protein is important, but what about proper timing and ideas for types of post-workout protein to consume on a regular basis?

A lot of my clients ask: What time frame constitutes “post-workout?” I mean, technically anything AFTER a workout is post-workout, right? Technically YES, but there’s an IDEAL time frame to be considered in post-workout nutrition.

Ideally, protein should be consumed right after exercise or up to at most two hours after exercise to reap benefits of our post-workout protein ingestion. Additionally, eating protein with some carbohydrates after exercise helps to replenish energy stores, sparing protein to help build and repair muscles.

In addition to protein timing, it’s also important to take into account the type of protein you are choosing. Whey protein – a high quality, complete protein naturally found in milk – can be a good option. In fact, as little as 10 grams of whey protein has been shown to stimulate muscle synthesis following exercise. However, while 10 grams of whey has been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis, it is important to note that it is recognized as a sub-optimal amount.  To maximize the muscle rebuilding process, experts recommend approximately 20 grams of high quality protein (providing approximately 10g of essential amino acids). Whey protein is a great choice, as it contains all of the essential protein components (amino acids) that the body needs AND is pretty darn easy for our body to digest. It’s also one of the best sources of leucine, which has been shown to help promote muscle synthesis (making, repairing and rebuilding muscle).

It’s easy to get hung up on getting protein immediately after workouts, but it’s equally as important to make sure we are getting enough high quality protein throughout the day as well. This doesn’t have to be a struggle. Here are a few tips and tricks that I use to help boost my daily intake of whey protein:
• Make protein-rich smoothies using milk, yogurt, and/or whey protein powder.
• Cook old-fashioned rolled oats with milk instead of water. Or make your overnight oats with milk instead of water or almond milk. Whichever flavor you prefer works just fine!
• Stir it up! Whey is the liquid portion of milk protein. This can sometimes be observed as the liquid on the top of our yogurt. Don’t pour it off – mix it right back in!
• Greek yogurt contains the least amount of whey protein of all yogurts. It’s removed to get the yogurt thicker. To get some of that whey protein back, consider adding a whey protein powder – just stir it in!
• When baking, substitute your whey protein powder for other dry ingredients such as sugar. Add whey protein to pancake mix for protein pancakes.
• Get creative – try adding unflavored whey protein powder to hot dips or sauces. Pro Tip: Whey protein isn’t heat stable, so to avoid excess breakdown, add the powder to your sauce or dip at the end of the cooking process.

Need more ideas on how to add whey protein to everyday foods? Check out this new resource to help boost the power of your favorite recipes.

Sponsored by an educational stipend from National Dairy Council

Tara Collingwood
MS, RDN, CSSD, LD/N
Tara is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition, fitness, and health promotion and is quoted in a variety of media including television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and websites.

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