Use smoothies for post-workout recovery

Smoothies aren’t just for dieters. They’re a great option for fitness buffs too.

Over the last few years, breakfast cereals, muffins, crackers and other refined carbohydrates have made way for smoothies – delicious, on-the-go liquid meals and snacks packed with nutrients. On average, the Australian household’s consumption of liquid breakfasts has increased by 20% in the last five years, a spokesman for Nielsen told News.com.au.

Smoothie bars have also popped up in gyms across Australia – with good reason. Many fitness junkies turn to the liquid nutrition in healthy smoothies to recover after a gruelling workout.

According to Simone Austin, an Australian dietician with more than 20 years’ experience working with athletes, and spokesperson for the Dietician’s Association of Australia (DAA), smoothies are appealing because they’re easy to drink. This is helpful when exhaustion resulting from strenuous exercise temporarily curbs one’s desire to eat. Plus, smoothies are a great way of hydrating and refuelling the body with nutrients.

Goals of recovery nutrition
Interestingly, nutrition after physical exertion is so important that it has become a field in its own right, called “recovery nutrition”. The goals of recovery nutrition, according to an online fact sheet by Sports Dieticians Australia (SDA), are to:

– Appropriately refuel and rehydrate the body
– Promote muscle repair and growth
– Boost adaptation from the training session
– Support immune function

SDA points out that proactive recovery nutrition is especially important if you complete two or more training sessions in one day or two sessions in close succession (e.g. an evening session followed by an early-morning session the next day).

If you’re exercising once a day or a couple of times a week, recovery nutrition is still important. But you may be able to meet your nutrition goals from your usual meals or snacks instead of adding extra food.

Sports dieticians stress that not getting your recovery nutrition right could lead to fatigue, reduced performance in future training or sports events, and increased muscle soreness.

The right nutrients at the right time
Protein and carbohydrate are important nutrients to replenish after a gruelling workout, says Austin. “You need protein for rebuilding and repairing damaged cells after exercise and maintaining your immune system, which can be under pressure during exercise. Carbohydrate is needed to replace energy burnt as fuel.”

While water may not be considered a nutrient, it’s very important, considering that the body is made up of between 60 and 70% water.

According to Austin, the amount of nutrition needed depends on the length and intensity of exercise, and whether you wish to gain or lose body weight or muscle mass.

The SDA adds that the urgency for carbohydrate and protein after exercise depends on how long you have until your next exercise session. It elaborates by explaining that the body is most effective at replacing carbohydrate and promoting muscle repair and growth in the first 60-90 minutes after exercise.

“While this will continue to occur for another roughly 12 to 24 hours, it’s a good idea to maximise your recovery in the first 60-90 minutes after you finish exercising, especially if you have a quick turnaround between training sessions.”

What kind of smoothie will do the job?
Smoothies are fantastic for meeting your carbohydrate, protein, water and nutrient needs after a training session. With so many smoothie ingredients to choose from, it helps to know which ones best replace nutrients lost during exercise.

Austin recommends choosing fruit and veggies as they contain potassium – one of the most important electrolytes to replace. Greens can also provide vitamin C, which boosts the immune system’s ability to recover. And fruit and vegetables are a good source of carbohydrates.

Use yoghurt and/or milk in your smoothie, experts say. Both yoghurt and milk have excellent electrolyte profiles as they contain sodium, potassium, phosphorus and other minerals like calcium. They’re also a good source of protein.

While a post-workout smoothie should focus on protein and carbohydrate as its main nutrients, it’s fine to also include a small amount of good fats like nuts, chia seeds or avocado.

Still not quite sure how to make the perfect smoothie for post-workout recovery? These top tips from experts at DAA and SDA will help:

1. Base your smoothie ingredients and quantity on your kilojoule needs. To lose weight, keep it to around 250ml in total – 150ml milk, 1 fruit, 1 tablespoon of yoghurt, and maybe a teaspoon of nuts or seeds (which relax muscles and enhance nerve function). For weight gain, increase the volume. For very intense workouts, consider adding a scoop of protein powder to your smoothie.

2. With 90% of Australians not eating enough vegetables, try adding a green leafy vegetable or two. They have loads of vitamins and minerals for repair, and also contain dietary fibre and some potassium.

3. Don’t overdo your kilojoule intake because you’re drinking your food and using it as a recovery fuel. A smoothie is part of your daily intake, so consider it as one of your snacks or meals (and not merely a beverage).

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