If you’re starting to get serious about your workout and performance, you may be looking into post workout nutrition. It’s very common for individuals to incorporate a protein shake after their workout because so many individuals already do this, so naturally, we think we should too!
While protein shakes may be the mainstream choice of drink in terms of recovery nutrition for athletes and gymgoers, it isn’t everyone’s preferred choice of drink, due to its cost and taste, to name a few reasons. Another popular way to recover that’s often overlooked is by eating real food, like a meal (not just granola bars and fruit!) or even a post workout smoothie.
Opting for meals, which should predominantly consist of carbohydrates, protein and some fat, is a smart choice but not everyone has the appetite to stomach large volumes of food. If you’re an individual who wants to step up their recovery and postworkout nutrition, but can’t stomach a meal, a post workout smoothie may be a good option for you! Since liquids are easier to take in than food, this is a way in which you can get your postworkout nutrition in!
Including the right components into your smoothie after a workout can make it as nutritious and nutrient-dense as a meal. When I was younger, I remember adding lots of my favourite fruits with some milk to make my smoothie. Considering the amount of fruit included, this was extremely sugary and far from balanced (there was a bit of protein from the milk, but not a lot!). A balanced post workout smoothie can help you refuel, rehydrate and recover faster from your workout!
Three components to include in your post workout smoothie
The two key nutrients - carbohydrates and protein, are essential to recovery after exercise. Studies have shown that their ingestion helps improve body composition, muscle protein synthesis and promotes recovery (1). The shorter recovery time means that you can return to training sooner to continue training and competing!
Fruit & vegetables - most, if not all smoothies contain fruit, and this usually provides the majority of the carbohydrates in a smoothie (the sugar in fruit is called fructose). Carbohydrates help replenish glycogen stores in the muscle and liver, which were used while exercising.
Along with vegetables, they also provide us with vitamins and minerals that contribute to regular muscle contraction, immune function, wound healing, etc., and antioxidants, which reduce oxidative stress (2).
Examples: berries, mangoes, bananas, pineapple, kale, spinach, carrots etc
Protein - The role of protein helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis (1), which can help reduce the rate of muscle breakdown after exercise. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t necessary to start consuming protein the second you put down your weights/step off the field! I’d only add a scoop of protein powder for post workout smoothies and not pre workout.
Examples: Greek yogurt, protein powder, (high protein) milk/soy beverage*, soft tofu
*most plant-based beverages are not a direct substitute for milk due to its lower protein content
Fat - an easy way to boost your caloric intake (for athletes struggling to meet their requirements) is by adding a source of fat. Your choice of protein may already contain some fat, but if it doesn’t (like tofu), you could include nut butter, seeds or avocado!
Seeds are packed with omega-3 fats which help reduce inflammation (3), while avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats - which have a cholesterol-lowering effect, and fibre.
Examples: nut butters, hemp hearts, flax seeds, chia seeds, avocado**
**most nut butters and seeds also contain some protein and fibre, which helps keep you satiated
Including both protein and fat will lower the rate of absorption of sugar than if the smoothie was pure fruit, so that your blood sugar won’t fluctuate significantly.
Optional: Sweeteners - As tempting as it is to skimp out on sweeteners, a small amount can be the difference between whether you actually enjoy your post workout smoothie or not! The sweetness of your smoothie may not be the same every time due to the difference in the ripeness of fruits, so try to limit your use of sweeteners to ~2 tablespoons or so.
Examples: honey, maple syrup, dates
Final thought - if you don’t already have a go-to smoothie combination, try experimenting with different ingredients to find one that suits your palate!
My go-to combination is (not pictured in examples)
½ c strawberry
¼ c almond butter
½ c soy milk
1 scoop protein powder (for post workout smoothie; skip if pre workout smoothie)