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Post-workout nutrition can be confusing. Find out how you can recover with just ingredients found in your kitchen.
Walk into any sporting goods store, or flip the page of your favorite running magazine, and there’s a good chance you’ll discover a nutrition product designed to support your body before, during, or after your workout. Given the seemingly infinite number of options, it can be overwhelming trying to pick one. Luckily, at SmartyPants, we’re all about simplifying health, and we’re happy to report that you can also help your body recover using just ingredients found in your kitchen.
POP A POTATO
Research shows that the most effective form of carbohydrate for muscle repair and recovery is glucose, which is primarily found in starchy foods such as bread, rice, and pasta. Heck, carb-loading might be the whole reason some people run in the first place. But, unlike that bottomless bowl of breadsticks, potatoes are an excellent source of glucose that can also act as a prebiotic, helping to feed our good gut bacteria!
Potatoes, when cooked and then cooled, contain what’s called resistant starch. Resistant starches pass through the digestive tract unchanged – they are resistant to digestion – and function similar to soluble fiber in that they act as food for the good bacteria living in our gut. Research shows that resistant starch can have powerful health benefits, including improved insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar levels, reduced appetite, and improved digestion – and any runner knows that we can use all the help we can get keeping our guts happy!
MIND YOUR MINERALS
If you’ve ever seen a Gatorade commercial, then you know that electrolytes are important for athletes. But why? Electrolytes are minerals with an electric charge. They’re crucial in managing our body’s ability to contract muscles and maintain the balance of water in our body. Unfortunately, when we sweat, we lose key minerals, most notably sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
You can keep your mineral stores high by eating a nutrient-rich diet that includes lots of potassium and magnesium-packed fruits and vegetables and seasoning your food with a high-quality sea salt. After runs, you can make your own all-natural recovery drink by mixing coconut water, sea salt, lemon juice, and a bit of honey.
GO FOR THE GOLD
Turmeric is THE healthy buzzword of the moment, and for good reason. It’s one of the most well-researched spices, with benefits ranging from improved mood to blood sugar regulation, bone health, heart health, and digestion. But turmeric is probably best known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
As runners, we’re no strangers to inflammation – soreness, tendinitis, chafing anyone? Turmeric contains a powerful medicinal compound called curcumin, which has been shown to help support the immune system by promoting a healthy inflammatory response. In fact, several studies have even compared the effects of curcumin favorably to those of pharmaceutical medications. A diet that includes turmeric, as well as other immune system-supporting antioxidants, may help your body respond to these less-than-pleasant side effects of our favorite pastime.
Smarty Tip: When incorporating turmeric into your cooking, make sure you also add in black pepper. Black pepper contains piperine, a substance that’s been shown to enhance the absorption of curcumin by 2000%!
BREW SOME BROTH
If you haven’t heard of bone broth, you probably will, soon. The craze for this brew has been sweeping the country, but bone broth is nothing new. In fact, it’s thousands of years old. “Bone broth” is just another name for broth that’s made the traditional way – by boiling bones, skin, joints, and any other part of an animal that is left over after the meat is consumed. This is how our ancestors made broth for centuries. The primary difference between bone broth and other types of broth and soup stock is time. Bone broth is simmered anywhere from 12 to 48 hours. This lengthy brewing process gives the bones a chance to break down and release their structural components, which include those all-important minerals, plus collagen, glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, and other glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) – compounds that have been shown to stimulate cell growth in joints, tendons, and ligaments. According to Dr. Cate Shanahan, director of the Los Angeles Lakers PRO Nutrition Program, drinking bone broth is like drinking “liquid bone,” potentially delivering a range of benefits from stronger bones and joints to shinier hair and even improved immune function. There’s been almost no clinical research on bone broth, but, if it’s good enough for Kobe, it might be worth a try!
Two more nutrients that have been shown to help promote a healthy inflammatory response are the omega 3 fatty acids DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). The best dietary sources of EPA and DHA are wild-caught fish such as salmon and sardines, and some types of sea algae. While you can get the omega 3 fatty acid ALA from plant sources such as flax and chia seeds, it must be converted by our bodies into DHA and EPA, and the rate of conversion for most people is less than 5%. If the thought of a nice helping of post-workout sardines isn’t exactly appetizing, you can get your omega 3s by supplementing with a high-quality fish oil like the kind we use in SmartyPants, which comes from wild-caught, sustainable small fish.
AID YOUR ADRENALS
Most runners think of their time on the road as a form of stress relief. Our bodies, on the other hand, have a different view. From an evolutionary standpoint, our bodies see most forms of exercise as a stress. This reaction evolved during the days when exercise wasn’t a leisure activity. If we were running, it was because we were, most likely, being chased by a wild animal and running for our lives.
When our bodies are confronted with stress, our adrenal glands secrete vitamin C as part of our “fight or flight” response – the process that prepares our bodies for action by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and the amount of oxygen to the brain. Runners, and anyone who exercises regularly, should prioritize vitamin C, especially after a strenuous workout. Foods highest in vitamin C include bell peppers, guavas, dark leafy greens, kiwis, and broccoli.
Smarty Tip: Vitamin C is easily damaged by heat, so it’s best to eat foods containing vitamin C, raw or only very lightly cooked.
It’s widely documented that protein helps speed muscle repair and recovery after hard workouts. Until recently, the consensus amongst most fitness experts was to consume around 20 grams of protein, 30-90 minutes after a strenuous workout.
But what if you simply cannot stomach the thought of eating after a hard run?
According to one study from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition – no problem. The study found that when it came to building lean muscle mass, protein timing wasn’t a factor. Across all the studies, groups that ate protein immediately after exercise didn’t do much better than those that consumed the same amount of protein throughout the day.
So, while protein is important, you don’t need to put a steak in a blender just so you can get it down 30 minutes post-run.
There are plenty of delicious ways to eat protein throughout your day, from that grass-fed steak to rice and beans, even vegetables have some protein. But, if you happen to love your post-workout smoothies and shakes, research suggests that whey protein concentrate is the most bioavailable, or, the most easily absorbed and used by our bodies (if you’ve been friends with SmartyPants for a while then you know we’re all about bioavailability.) Vegetarians, vegans, and other fans of plant-based protein powders can get around this bioavailability bottleneck by consuming plant protein with digestive enzymes, which have been shown to increase the digestibility and usability of plant-based powders.
For more ways to make staying healthy a little less complicated and a lot more fun, check out the SmartyPants Vitamins blog.