What do you reach for for dinner? Which nutrients are important? And why are they important?
Take a few seconds to imagine your body after exercise and the processes that are going on to get you back onto an even keel. A lengthy run, cycle or swim will leave your muscle energy stores depleted and your cells in a state of inflammation. If you have pushed yourself hard, you are also likely to be dehydrated after sweating pretty freely.
There is a crucial time point just after exercise where your body craves carbohydrate to replenish energy stores and protein to help build and repair muscles. In this ‘magic window’ of time your body is able to utilise nutrients really efficiently, which aids recovery and allows your body to adapt to your training. Appropriate diet at this point will also do wonders for your immune system, which is most at risk when your body is in an inflammatory state, something that commonly occurs just after an intense training session.
Timing is everything after exercise: the sooner you eat or drink the better. If you know your dinner is a few hours away aim to take a snack and drink along with you. Aim for a snack high in carbohydrate but low in fat with a little bit of protein, this could include:
- Low fat natural yogurt with fruit
- Dried fruit with a glass of milk
- Malt loaf spread with a little peanut butter
- A handful of nuts and dried fruit (try making up your own trailmix)
It is not uncommon for people to lose around a litre of sweat in just an hour when exercising at a high intensity. Dehydration increases the level of stress hormones in your body; increased stress hormones such as cortisol dampen down your immune system, making it much easier to pick up bugs such as coughs and colds. Aim to replace the fluids that you have lost. Cool palatable drinks such as water, cordial and diluted fruit juice will all do the trick! It is also worth noting that skimmed milk is one of the best recovery drinks around, with just the right ratio of protein, carbohydrate and fluid.
Our muscles love to run on carbohydrate, which is easily released during intense exercise, but leaves muscle stores depleted after exercise. Carbohydrate (or glycogen) stores require replenishing after activity in order to keep your immune system strong and to allow you to train to your best ability at your next session. Your first meal after training should include a good carbohydrate source such as pasta, rice, potatoes or grains such as couscous or quinoa to help stock up those muscle glycogen stores.
Protein is important for muscle repair and recovery and to really adapt to your full ability after a training session. Having said that, our bodies can only utilise so much protein and more protein is not necessarily better. For that reason, for the vast majority of people I would never recommend protein shakes after training. What is important is to make sure that you get a good lean protein source in your next meal, this could include fish, lean meats such as chicken or turkey or eggs (eggs are fantastic.)
To help your body recover and keep your immune system strong, it is important to get some antioxidants such as vitamin C into your diet. I’m not talking about pills and potions, but good old fashioned fruit and vegetables. Aim to pack about a third of your post training plate with fruit or veggies.
As you may have heard mentioned before, omega 3 (which is found in the highest concentrations in oily fish) is a brilliant anti-inflammatory food source, and therefore brilliant for exercising individuals. Aim to include oily fish such as salmon, mackerel or sardines in your diet a couple of times a week to aid recovery and keep your immune system strong.
To give you some ideas here is a speedy post-exercise supper for you to try. Enjoy.
Speedy Salmon Supper (Serves 2)
2 Salmon fillets
2tbsp soy sauce
Thumb sized piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated
1 Garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 Finely chopped red chilli
2tbsp lime juice
1tsp sesame oil
1.5 ‘Nests’ of egg noodles
1 Spring onion, trimmed and thinly sliced
100g Sugar snap peas
100g Pak choi (or spinach)
1 Large red pepper, sliced
- Make the marinade by mixing together the soy sauce, ginger, chilli, sesame oil, lime and garlic and add the salmon for 10 minutes.
- Heat a non-stick frying pan. Add the salmon fillets, skin-side down, and leave for 3 minutes. When the fish is slightly crispy, flip over and cook for a further 3 minutes on the other side.
- Meanwhile, heat 1tbsp oil in a wok and stir-fry the spring onions, sugar snap peas, pepper and pak choi, then add the leftover marinade.
- Meanwhile, cook the noodles following pack instructions then add to the stir-fried vegetables.
- Divide into two bowls, top with the cooked salmon and serve.
This feature is courtesy of our friends Kelly, Louise and Veronica, all registered dietitians from EatandThink.co.uk – EatandThink offer sound nutritional advice for all stages of life with a no-fads philosophy and common sense approach to wellbeing. Find out more and register for their weekly meal plans at EatandThink.co.uk