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Are Smoothies The Perfect Post Workout Recovery?

Smoothies are an excellent option for post exercise. Whether you have just smashed out a gym session, been out on a run, or wrapped up a big game on a Saturday morning, smoothies are a convenient way to ensure you refuel and help your body recover quickly.

Many athletes reach for liquid nutrition post workout as it is an easy way to consume macronutrients that aid in the recovery process. Smoothies are not only quick to make but easy to take on the go providing a convenient post exercise meal.

Why Is Recovery Important?

Recovery from exercise is a crucial component to health and continued improvement from training. Engaging in a period of intense exercise puts stress on our glycogen (muscle energy) stores and damages muscle tissue. If this is followed by quality recovery we are able to repair and build muscle while adapting our body to our training. However, physiological stress without adequate recovery can result in a decline in immune function and increase the risk of injury and overtraining. By consuming the correct nutrition after exercising you can improve your body’s ability to recover which influences overall body composition, performance, and ability to reach fitness goals.


Typical Recovery Mistakes:

The most common recovery mistakes include:

  • Not eating soon enough after exercise to optimize recovery.
  • Neglecting key macronutrients OR only prioritising protein. (Protein shakes are a great way to quickly consume protein, however, they lack key electrolytes and carbs needed to replenish those lost during your workout).
  • Eating that ‘cookie you earnt’ which isn’t very nutrient dense, instead of prioritising recovery foods. You can totally enjoy that cookie if you want, but alongside some proper recovery food that will help optimize the workout you just smashed!
  • Not rehydrating to replenish fluids lost through sweat, especially in hotter climates.



What Makes A Smoothie Perfect For Recovery?

A recovery meal has the potential to optimise muscle glycogen stores and avoid further muscle breakdown.

Consuming a smoothie instead of a regular meal is a great choice for many reasons.
  • For starters, it’s convenient. Not only can you make it in 5 minutes and have it on the go, but you can also include all the nutrients you need to optimize your recovery and refuel accordingly.
  • Being a liquid form of nutrition smoothies are easily digestible in comparison to a whole foods option which requires extra energy to break down. A liquid meal can result in accelerated digestion and absorption and may increase the rate of recovery.
  • Smoothies are a great way to include all macronutrients, plus help rehydrate the body.
  • Smoothies are easy to consume which is useful as post exercise exhaustion can temporarily suppress an athlete’s appetite.


Three Key Nutritional Requirements For Recovery:

  1. Protein to aid in protein synthesis (the repair and building of muscle)
  2. Carbohydrates high in glycogen, glucose and sucrose to replenish muscle glycogen stores
  3. Electrolytes for rehydration

Protein is an essential macronutrient that plays a key role in muscle growth and repair. Our muscles are made of essential amino acids found in protein, meaning that in order to build and repair muscle tissue we must provide the body with dietary protein in order to refuel the damaged muscle fibers.

Consuming carbs as part of a recovery meal promotes glycogen synthesis and refuels the body between workouts. Foods rich in carbohydrates with a moderate to high glycaemic index (fast releasing energy) provide a readily available source of carbohydrate for muscle glycogen synthesis, and should contribute to the carbohydrate sources in recovery meals.

Don’t skip out on this important aspect of recovery to pursue a “low carb” or “weight-loss friendly” diet or your body will crave carbs for the rest of the day, and somehow our bodies always get what they want, so don’t be surprised if you find your hand in the biscuit tin at 3pm if you neglect your post workout carbs.

Although there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to nutritional recovery requirements it is recommended to consume a 3:1 carb to protein ratio.

This means for every 3 grams of carbohydrate 1 gram of protein should also be consumed. A generalized target is 45-60 grams of carbs with 15-20 grams of protein.

Additionally, electrolytes are an essential part of recovery to aid the body in rehydration. Electrolytes are minerals that help with many bodily functions but mainly fluid balance. Certain electrolytes are lost along with fluid through sweat during exercise, the key ones for athletes being sodium, magnesium, calcium and potassium. Due to electrolytes wanting to maintain fluid balance in the cells they quickly absorb fluid to rehydrate the body quickly to avoid dehydration.



Ingredients To Boost Any Recovery Smoothie:

  • Yogurt and/or milk are great sources of both protein and calcium, plus they are a rich source of electrolytes.
  • A carbohydrate source to replenish glycogen stores in the body
    • Fruit, especially bananas are a high carb fruit with a moderate glycemic index and a great source of potassium which is a key electrolyte to replenish.
    • Oats are an easy to digest carbohydrate which sits in the moderate glycemic index range meaning it releases energy quickly but sustainably.
  • Source of protein
    • Protein powder is the easiest way to include protein in your smoothie, a serving size usually provides around 30grams of protein.
    • Nut butter such as peanut or almond not only taste amazing but also add a boost of protein and healthy fat.
  • Nuts and seeds are packed with inflammation fighting nutrients and help with muscle relaxation.
  • Fruit and veg to boost your vitamin and fiber intake for the day. With only 40% of New Zealanders eating the recommended amount of fruit and vege per day this is a great opportunity to throw in a handful of berries and some leafy greens such as spinach (you can’t taste it, I promise!).


Plant vs. Whey Protein Powder

Both plant and whey protein powders can be of great nutritional benefit to any diet and exercise regime; but what is the difference and is one better than the other?

The best choice for you will depend on your goals as well as any nutritional intolerances.

Whey protein tends to be digested and absorbed quicker due to its high leucine content. Leucine is an essential amino acid used for protein synthesis which promotes muscle recovery.

Plant based protein on the other hand, while still being great for muscle recovery, takes more time to digest which can help you to feel fuller for longer. This can be good for those who are looking to manage their weight by reducing snacking throughout the day.

Many people can experience gastric irritation and digestive issues from whey protein since it comes from animals. This may be due to an intolerance to dairy or lactose whether it is mild or severe. Plant based protein on the other hand is dairy free and causes less inflammation to the digestive system which may be favorable for post exercise recovery.

Overall, both are great choices however if you are looking to manage your weight or you have dietary requirements such as being vegan or dairy/lactose intolerant plant-based protein will be the best choice for you.


Key Take Away Points:

  • Nutritional recovery after exercise is key to optimising gains and continued progress while preventing injury and glycogen depletion.
  • Smoothies are a convenient and effective way to consume what is required quickly so that the body can start replenishing and repairing straight away.
  • Protein, carbohydrates and electrolytes are the key nutritional focus after exercise, all of which can be incorporated into a smoothie.
  • Consuming a ratio of 3:1 carbohydrate to protein as soon as possible after exercise is recommended to optimise recovery.
  • Protein powder is an efficient and easily digested way to add protein to the diet and there are different sources depending on your nutritional requirements and goals.

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