Food is fuel and should be used as a source of nutrients for the body, restoring muscle glycogen as a means of recovery. If your target is losing weight, maintaining weight, increasing muscle mass or training for an endurance event, the post-exercise food that you choose may help you reach that goal.
Muscles rely heavily on carbohydrates for fuel. The most beneficial meal for muscle recovery after working out should include four grams of carbohydrate for every one gram of protein. Fast digesting carbohydrates, those containing natural sugars are most effective, such as fruit and honey. Lisa Kovalovich Whitmore of Fitness Magazine recommends a recipe that combines 8 ounces of Greek yogurt, a half cup of mixed berries with a teaspoon of honey for a complete carbohydrate-protein ratio for optimal recovery.
Consuming protein post-exercise has numerous benefits. Protein provides amino acids, which are needed to rebuild damaged muscle tissue from intense exercise and can improve immune function. Protein in a liquid form is most efficiently absorbed by the muscles, such as two scoops of whey, hemp or rice protein powder mixed with unsweetened almond milk and a banana, which will also restore the body's lost fluids. Other options enlisted by sports dietitian Nancy Clark in an article for Active.com include whole grain toast with a little bit of peanut butter, cereal with milk, or a fruit smoothie, making up the ratio of approximately 40 grams of carbohydrates to 10 grams of protein.
Although healthy unsaturated fats are essential in the diet, fats should be minimized after exercising. Fat slows down protein, carbohydrate, and nutrient absorption by the muscles. Overall, high amounts of fat consumed after exercise may interrupt digestion of nutrients and slow muscle recovery.
The timing of a post-workout meal is crucial to muscle recovery and should be anywhere from 30 minutes to 60 minutes after. This is the time where muscles are in the most optimal position to absorb nutrients. Waiting too long can lead the body to store food eaten as fat, as opposed to feeding it to the muscles. Ultimately, waiting too long will have a negative effect on the body and will make a workout less effective.