Choosing the perfect recovery meal for your workouts requires thinking about more than just the meal itself. It’s also about the timing, the quality of the meal, and the way you consume it. A couple of factors that determine what post workout meal you should be consuming are: what type of workout you did, how well you respond to dairy, and whether you stayed below your aerobic threshold or not. Some other important and often overlooked considerations are the quality of your food and your salt intake.
Anabolic vs. catabolic exercise
Exercises that build muscle with anabolic hormones, like human growth hormone and testosterone, are called anabolic workouts. Bench presses, barbell squats, leg presses, pull ups, curls, sledge hammer workouts, and deadlifts are all categorized as anabolic workouts because they build muscle. To refuel after an anabolic workout will require plenty of amino acids to rebuild the broken down tissue, plus carbohydrates to provoke an insulin response that will shuttle protein and energy to your depleted muscles.
Exercises that release catabolic hormones, like norepinephrine, adrenaline, and cortisol, are catabolic because they break tissue down (primarily fat). Aerobic exercises are almost synonymous with catabolic workouts because they all lead to the stress hormones like adrenaline to break down fat and supply energy. Running, hot yoga, cycling, kickboxing, volleyball, and swimming are all catabolic exercises that require ample amounts of carbohydrates and relatively minimal protein to keep your metabolism from halting. A pasta dinner or other high-carb meal within an hour of such exercise will replenish glycogen stores in your liver and tissues so you have energy to keep burning in your next workout.
Intolerances to dairy products, however mild they may be, should factor in heavily for your post workout meal. We are inundated by the supplement industry with how superior whey protein is. Though it’s true the amino acid profile of whey is ideal and almost miraculous, many people have inflammatory responses from ingesting it. Workouts naturally provoke an inflammatory response to shuttle nutrients to your screaming cells, but prolonging an inflammatory state will hamper your ability to recover from a workout.
If you feel any stomach discomfort with whey protein or if you feel your lymph glands swell after a whey shake, go for alternatives like sprouted rice protein, pea protein, or hemp protein. Toss an egg in your shake for added cholesterol, which is the base for anabolic hormones like HGH and testosterone.
“Aerobic threshold” is the point where your metabolism shifts primarily to anaerobic energy, which uses limited store of glycogen and produces waste products like lactic acid. Aerobic energy comes from oxygen burning fat, which is the most efficient energy production we have. Intense catabolic exercises will surpass your aerobic threshold.
Your threshold is 70-80% of your maximum heart rate, and it can be discovered by monitoring your heart during workouts. Doing common anabolic exercises at aerobic threshold (think: crossfit, bootcamps, etc) will dramatically shift your post-workout needs to resemble a catabolic workout. Salmon, steamed rice, applesauce, and sweet potatoes would be an ideal meal for intensive exercises that exceed your aerobic threshold.
PH and quality of food
Our cells are created with the amino acids, nutrients, and minerals that we take in through food; we are what we eat. Not only is it important for our planet to take a stand against harmful agriculture, it is just as important to our bodies to be rebuilt with quality food.
Your body requires an optimal pH balance in order to promote a muscle-building environment. Fruits, veggies, and animal products that are cultivated with pesticides and herbicides are more acidic than their organically grown counterparts. It has long been known that higher acid content in blood leads to protein wasting, so choosing organically grown foods, when possible will help you to keep your hard earned muscle and help you to build more.
The best way to optimize pH is through quality water intake and adequate fruits and veggies. You can cheat your way to a balanced pH by mixing 2 ounces of organic lemon juice in 10 ounces of spring water each morning upon waking.
We hear quite a bit about how salt is the enemy, and so many of us have done due diligence in cutting it out. But there is a reason that we crave salty foods when we are stressed: Our adrenal glands suck up salt when taxed. More to the point, we lose incredible amounts of salt under stress, which in turn leads to decreased metabolism. If you aren’t getting enough salt, you may be stressing yourself out and reducing your ability to recover from your workouts.
If you experience frequent headaches and severe exhaustion after workouts, low sodium may be the culprit. Try sprinkling pink himalayan sea salt on your post workout meal to taste.