What’s the best way to recover from that tough workout in the gym, long run or strenuous cardio session? If you’re a woman, your recovery needs are a little different than a man’s. The most beneficial thing you can do for your body is to plan and consume an optimal post-workout meal. It may just be the most important meal you eat all day.
After a strenuous workout, your muscles are ready for the intake of important nutrients to help stimulate and repair muscle tissue. Ideally, you’ll have your post-workout meal within 30 minutes of completing exercise. For me, a smoothie does the trick. Often I’ll add ingredients to my blender ahead of time—that way everything’s ready to go when I get home from the gym.
Here are four nutrients your body needs for best recovery:
Fast-digesting (high glycemic) carbs – Fast-digesting carbohydrates work to quickly restore glycogen levels after exercise, helping to initiate recovery. Post workout is the one time high-glycemic carbs are essential. Usually these carbs are classified as simple sugars (which we stay away from because they quickly raise blood sugar and hence insulin levels). But after exercise, elevated insulin levels help drive nutrients into muscle cells. If you’re making a post-workout smoothie, include fruits such as bananas, pineapple or apricots, scoop in some oatmeal or add brown rice protein.
Whey Protein – Women need protein just as much as men do, and levels are depleted through exercise. Protein supplies the amino acids muscles need to prevent deterioration, support endurance and build muscle. Whey protein offers health benefits beyond supplying amino acids, so it’s a great option for active women. You’ll find it available as a great-tasting powder that can be easily added to beverages. Try natural chocolate-flavored Vitacost ARO Whey Protein Complex, which delivers 20 grams of pure protein plus vitamins, minerals, fiber and other important nutrients.
BCAAs – Branched-chain amino acids (namely l-valine, l-leucine, l-isoleucine) play an important part in post-workout recovery. The body can’t make them on it’s own—so it’s crucial you get them through dietary sources. BCAAs are known to reduce muscle tissue breakdown, contribute to increases in lean muscle mass and may help reduce muscle soreness. Look for an unflavored powder, such as Optimum Nutrition Instantized BCAA 5000, to enhance your smoothie without taking over the taste.
Glutamine – After an intense workout, glutamine levels in the body may become depleted, which can halt muscle recovery and repair. Supplement with up to 5 grams of glutamine after workouts—but for best results, wait two hours and don’t combine it with protein or BCAAs (these supplements can compete for uptake by muscle cells). I really enjoy natural fruit punch flavored Vitacost ARO Glutamine mixed into a glass of ice water.
NPC National Figure competitor Melissa Transou, a fitness expert, wife and mother, blogs about the unique sports and nutrition needs of women and female athletes exclusively for Vitacost.com. Learn more about Melissa in this recent RXMuscle.com spotlight article, connect with her on Facebook or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.