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If you think you’re improving your physical performance by pounding out rep after rep, day after day, think again. A grueling workout can leave you with ripped muscles—literally. But you can speed up the healing process by eating right and taking rest days.
"Multiple or consecutive training days causes what’s referred to as low-frequency fatigue," says Dr. Scott Connelly, an expert on the physiology of nutrition and muscle metabolism. "Multiple days of intense exercise sessions set you up for less than optimal muscle performance on days when you need it most."
Nutrition habits are a major driver of post-workout muscle recovery. It’s all about timing. Ideally, within 15 minutes after a workout, you should be taking in protein and carbs. This powerful combo maximizes recovery by stimulating protein synthesis and muscle tissue repair. Research in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise supports downing a carbohydrate beverage with added protein, citing that together they significantly reduce muscle damage.
A Post-Activity Recovery Meal
Follow up within two hours with a balanced meal. Try grilled steak with rice, black beans, salsa and guacamole, a south-of-the-border meal recommended by Jane Jakubczak, Maryland Terps coordinator of nutrition services.
Steak is a source of iron, a nutrient needed by all athletes. Jakubczak says, “Iron plays a role in transporting oxygen from your lungs to your cells to your muscles. If your muscles aren’t getting enough oxygen, you tend to feel fatigued, and you’re just not going to perform optimally.” Rice provides carbs, the body’s energy fuel. If you don't get enough carbs, you will experience reduced endurance, strength and power. Along with carbs, black beans provide seven grams of protein per half cup, and they are full of fiber, which satiates your appetite, meaning you feel fuller, longer. Guacamole [made from avocados] contains healthy fat, which Jakubczak says "can actually reduce inflammation." Just keep your portion in check. A quarter cup has about eight grams of fat.