For the best workout foods outside of your workout fueling and immediate recovery window, you need to maximize micro-nutrients for overall health and long term muscle recovery, as well as include plenty of protein and produce to support muscle building and your immune system around the clock. Start working these powerhouses into your meal prep rotation and you just might find yourself with some new PR’s.
Beets are a very high sugar vegetable that can help you in loading up on healthy carbs and possibly even increase your oxygen uptake as a natural source of betain, vitamin c, potassium, and manganese. I love roasting beets wrapped in aluminum foil then storing them in the refrigerator for a healthy addition to a lunch time salad.
2. Red meat
Combining protein with a highly absorbable source of iron (you know the stuff that carries oxygen through your bloodstream as you’re passing your competitors on the home stretch?) and a natural source of creatine, red meat and dark meat poultry are seriously efficient fuel. When available, free range has the healthiest fats to support cardiovascular health and reduce inflammation. If you don’t choose free range, keep your protein lean, by trying cuts such as sirloin, tenderloin, and round steak. Take advantage of this natural source of creatine after your workouts to not only aid recovery, but also potentially improve liver function and neurological stress.
Not all fish are created equal, but there is a lot of nutritional benefit to be had from the sea. A few heavy hitters include: sablefish, rainbow trout, canned sardines, mussels (environmentally friendly), and salmon. These are not only loaded with long lasting protein to keep you full, but also omega 3 fats to reduce inflammation and promote cardiovascular health. Try smoked fish or oysters on rice crackers for a tasty and convenient snack with a healthy balance of carbs and protein.
4. Leafy greens
When it comes to eating for performance, timing is key. While including carbs during your pre/post workout window is important, outside of that time, you’re looking for efficient calories that will fuel a lean and healthy body. To that end, a heavy dose of leafy greens each day is your best friend. These babies are filled with fiber and antioxidants to fill you up and aid in long term recovery. Try lettuce leaves or even nori as a substitute for bread in making a wrap for lunch, or just enjoy a healthy salad before dinner to take the edge off your appetite.
5. Organic/free range eggs
You can do worse than including eggs in your breakfast, or even as a cheap and easy dinner a few times each week. If you choose organic and free range eggs, these are loaded with omega three fats that will feed your brain and reduce inflammation. Keep boiled eggs on hand and use them as filler in your lettuce wraps for lunch.
If you’re looking for the best options in protein, dairy is where it’s at. Basically, dairy based protein comes in two forms, casein and whey, and they both have their place. Casein is a more slowly absorbed protein that has a few specific benefits. It can help with satiety, like when you want your post workout meal to hold you through until lunchtime, and it can help to protect muscle during periods of fasting, such as overnight. If you’re focused on building muscle, cheese and cottage cheese, both natural sources of casein are a great pre-bedtime snack. You can also add casein protein to your post-workout snack to increase its staying power.
Choosing the best foods for running and working out has come a long way since the days of pasta loading and simple carbohydrate drinks. Choosing an intelligent balance of protein, carbs, and healthy fats, while emphasizing whole foods will take your workouts to the next level and support your health for the long run.
About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.