The basics of good nutrition are the same for active people as they are for sedentary people -- eat more fruits and vegetables but less meat and dairy, choose whole grains over refined varieties and limit your intake of sugar, sodium, fat and processed foods. But active people require more calories and have specific nutritional needs that must be satisfied to promote healthy recovery after workouts. By making your own recovery drinks, you can exercise control over ingredients and portions to suit your individual needs.
Protein and Carbs
Combining protein and carbohydrates in your post-workout drink is important, according to registered dietitian and certified athletic trainer Dana Angelo White. Carbs are vital for replenishing lost energy stores, and protein is necessary to repair damaged muscle fibers and build new ones. Although most people recover well with drinking only water after moderate exercise, the nutritional components of your drink matter more if your workouts are particularly long or intense. According to the Thrive Forward nutritional plan, the ideal post-workout ratio of carbs to protein is between 3-to-1 and 4-to-1, which is about the same ratio found in chocolate milk.
The number of calories you’ll want in a recovery drink depends on a variety of factors, including your total calorie needs, your overall physical activity level, your fitness goals and whether you intend the drink to be a snack or a meal replacement. If it’s a snack, aim for your drink to have about half the number of calories you burned during your workout, says human services expert and personal trainer Dean Anderson. A drink you’re using as a meal can and should have more calories, but if you intend it to be an aid for weight loss, make sure its net calorie count is lower than what you’d take in at the meal it’s replacing.
Low-fat and nonfat dairy products make great bases for homemade recovery drinks because they contain favorable carb-to-protein ratios and are rich in calcium as well. Start with 1 cup of nonfat milk, plain nonfat yogurt or kefir. If you can’t handle dairy, soy milk and silken tofu also have a mixture of protein and carbs. After pouring your base of choice into a blender, add fresh or frozen fruit and flavorings. Try yogurt with half a banana and a dash of cinnamon; milk with frozen strawberries; or blended silken tofu with frozen raspberries and a scoop of cocoa powder. You can also make a drink without your blender -- just pour yourself an 8-ounce glass of chocolate milk.
Tips on Timing
If you can make and drink your beverage within an hour of finishing up your workout, your muscles may recover faster and more effectively. You may also want a little more protein in your drink if your workout involved resistance exercise, like weightlifting, or interval training. According to a study published in 2008 in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” 20 grams is the optimal amount of protein to take in right after exercise to stimulate muscle building and healing.
- Cooking Light: Post-Workout Meals
- Thrive Forward: Accelerate Your Recovery
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: National Nutrient Database
- Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Thinner You -- What to Eat After Your Workout
- The Washingtonian: 4 Myths About Protein and Working Out
- American Dietetic Association: Eating for Recovery
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Ingested Protein Dose Response of Muscle and Albumin Protein Synthesis After Resistance Exercise in Young Men