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10 Best Post-Workout Foods

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We've already discussed what and why one should eat before a workout, it's time to discuss what one should eat following a workout. There's a lot of misinformation surrounding post-workout eating. I've heard claims that eating soon after a workout can cause weight gain, regardless of calories consumed, as well as muscle cramps. Both claims are utter nonsense! As is the ridiculous myth that eating carbohydrates after a workout will prevent one from achieving muscle definition. How do they come up with stuff? Carbohydrates after a workout are a benefit, not an obstacle, to one's fitness success. After a work out, one's #1 nutrition goal should be helping their muscles recover and replenishing their depleted glycogen stores. Even if one only eat a large snack and not a full meal, it is vital that fitness devotees eat shortly after their workout. The question then becomes what to eat and why? I've listed my top 10 choices below.

10 Best Post-Workout Foods

1. Nuts and seeds 

2. Leafy greens 

3. Broccoli 

4. Sprouts 

5. Apples 

6. Pineapple 

7. Sweet potatoes 

8. Avocados 

9. Celery 

10. Beets

It's important to eat for recovery, refueling and storage soon after a workout ends, when the body is most responsive to absorbing and storing nutrients. It is especially important to rebuild one's glycogen stores after a workout. Glycogen serves as a form of energy storage in humans, animals and fungi, and our muscles burn through our glycogen supply first when we exercise. If you workout daily and/or lead a hectic, activity filled life, it is extremely important to restock your glycogen stores each day, after activity, as those stores will control your energy levels and ability to get through the next day's workout and activities. We can replenish our glycogen stores quickly by consuming the right carbohydrates; potatoes, sweet potatoes, pineapple and apples are all great sources of carbohydrates that quickly replenish glycogen stores.

Another important after workout nutrient is protein. Unlike carbohydrates and fat, protein is a nutrient that cannot be stored in the body and, therefore, must be replenished daily. Consuming high-quality vegan protein is especially important for those whose fitness goals include building and/or toning muscle groups, as protein is an important component of every cell in our bodies and is crucial to building and maintaining muscle. Fortunately, many raw whole foods contain complete protein molecules – fruits, vegetables, seeds, bean sprouts and grains. Of course, some sources contain more protein than others; leafy greens are always a good choice, particularly kale, spinach and parsley, but bean sprouts, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables are also good protein sources. Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of protein and always popular, but you don't want to eat too many nuts or seeds, because of their high fat content.

However, after a good workout, one should eat foods that contain “good fats” and nuts and seeds are a great choice, as is coconut meat and avocados. This is particularly important for those who wish to drop their fat padding and achieve better muscle definition (ex: washboard abs). Study after study has shown that consuming fat actually helps one burn off excess stored fat, while going “fat-free” induces the body to cling to its stored fat supply. Not surprising, as fat is an essential component of the human body and is vital for normal functioning. The key, when it come to fat consumption, is moderation.

The final two nutrients you need to replenish after a workout are not only essential, but work together to create what is called “membrane potential”; yes, I'm referring to potassium and sodium. As I mentioned in 10 Best Pre-Workout Raw Foods, “Potassium is particularly important to the regulation of the nervous system and muscles. … the frequency and degree to which one's muscles can contract is heavily dependent on having the correct amount of potassium in the body.” Membrane potential maintains the intracellular balance between these two life-sustaining electrolytes, but it's still vitally important to consume enough of each (especially potassium) to maintain the proper balance. Not enough potassium in the diet can be dangerous, as it is needed to balance out one's over consumption of sodium, which can dangerously elevate blood pressure; on the other hand, over consumption of potassium (which is rare) is filtered out through the urine, provided that one does not suffer from kidney disease. FYI, eating potassium-rich foods before and after a workout can also prevent muscle cramping.

Potassium can be found in many protein-rich whole foods – kale, spinach, broccoli, nuts and seeds, for example. Sodium is plentiful in vegetables like cardoons (which has a whopping 303mg per cup, shredded), artichokes, collard greens, beets, beet greens, seaweed, celery, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, spinach, turnips, celeriac and wax gourd, among others. I would have put cardoons on the “10 best” list, because they are the best raw vegan source of sodium, but they're difficult to find in some parts of the country and celery and beets are available everywhere. There is plenty of overlap in the foods that contain the best after workout nutrients, which makes it easier for one to get all of the nutrients they need following a workout, without feeling stuffed. But don't forget the most important compound that one should replenish following a workout: water.

After an intense workout, and even a not so intense workout, one should immediately replenish their lost fluids by drinking lots of water. Water is the most important nutrient in the body, and drinking it, both before and after a workout, helps the muscles function better. Water does not give one energy the way that fat and carbohydrates/glycogen do, but it serves as the medium in which all chemical and energy reactions take place; electrolytes are essentially impotent without sufficient water to act as their medium. This is why more than half of the human body is water, and why one needs to consume adequate amounts of water to maintain and achieve optimal health. If one feels weaker and wearier when dehydrated that is not a coincidence. We naturally move slower and have slower reaction times when we are dehydrated, because our muscles need water and the electrolytes they transport to move. So, obviously, water is as important to our ability to build and maintain muscle as protein and other macro-nutrients.

A post-workout meal doesn't have to be a full-on meal; one can keep it small and still benefit. The most important thing is to drink plenty of water and eat high carbohydrate foods like apples and sweet potatoes, protein-rich foods like leafy greens and get in a bit of unsaturated fat, which is easily found in whole foods like avocados, nuts and seeds. One can always eat more of these foods later, at a designated meal time, but never fail to take advantage of the body's after workout responsiveness to refuel and repair. 


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