After a killer workout, you’re probably tired, perhaps a bit sore and a little (or a lot) hungry. You’ve depleted your body’s fuel stores, caused some trauma to your muscles, and now it’s time to rest and repair. Whether your sweat session of choice is a long-distance run, spin class, open-water swim or a hardcore boot camp, your post-workout nutrition is the most important part of your fitness routine. Without getting the proper macronutrients in the correct proportions right away, your body will miss out on the greatest opportunity it has to rebuild and come back stronger than ever.
A simple solution to your body’s immediate need for nutrition? Recovery smoothies, which are superquick to assemble and easy to digest. A solid recovery smoothie would be one that has a 3 to 1 protein to carbohydrate ratio, using clean, whole ingredients, consumed 30–60 minutes after exercise. Follow the guidelines we’ve laid out below for a high-impact recovery smoothie, and don’t be afraid to improvise within the basic framework!
Step 1: Pick Your Protein
A healthy dose of protein is crucial for building muscle and repairing those microtears caused during a hard workout. (Those muscle tears are the main cause of muscle soreness.) Protein supplies amino acids, which are essential for tissue repair and cell regeneration. A high-quality protein powder is an obvious choice for many people, as it is available in so many different flavors and formulations, from classic whey protein to vegan pea protein. If you want to skip the powders, other excellent protein sources include Greek yogurt, hemp hearts, milk, almond or peanut butter, tofu, quinoa and even dark leafy greens like spinach and kale — which have the added benefits of fiber and calcium.
Step 2: Add Carbs, Glorious Carbs
Before you skip the carbohydrate component in your smoothie, keep in mind that not all carbs are created equal! Carbs are absolutely necessary for recovery, as they boost your glucose levels, spiking your insulin in a way that actually assists in kick-starting muscle recovery. Any glucose that isn’t immediately needed by your body is put away for later use as glycogen, the main energy source for when you exercise. Some great choices for carbohydrates are high-fiber fruits (pineapple, berries, pears, apples, papayas or acai), cooked sweet potato, canned pumpkin or rolled oats. Carb-loaded bananas are also a preferred ingredient for many because they help to create a wonderfully rich and creamy consistency while bringing a significant amount of fluid-balancing potassium and vitamin B6 to the party.
Step 3: Just Add Water (Or Something Like It)
You’ll want to add some sort of liquid to your smoothie to help blend everything together. Water works just fine, but you can add regular milk, your favorite nut milk, kefir or coconut water, which has the added benefit of natural electrolytes to help with rehydration. You can also experiment with cold-brewed coffee or tea as your liquid of choice. Skip fruit juices if possible, as they often have more sugar than you need, but if you want to use them, pick an organic or fresh-pressed juice if you can.
Extra Credit: Healthy Fats and Superfoods
Now that you’ve gotten the basic ingredients for your smoothie together, you can mix it up with add-ons. A touch of healthy fat can be a great additive to your smoothie — flaxseed oil, avocado, pumpkin seeds and coconut oil are fantastic sources of energy and can help curb hunger. There are also a number of superfoods that can be incorporated into your recovery shake to provide additional antioxidants, vitamins and minerals: maca powder, trace mineral drops, cacao nibs, bee pollen, turmeric and spirulina to name a few. For flavor, you can add a squeeze of lemon, ginger, herbs like mint or basil, a dash of cinnamon, vanilla extract — the possibilities are endless.
Need more inspiration? Try one of these perfectly balanced recovery smoothie recipes:
- Simple Green Protein Smoothie
- Chocolate Chia Recovery Drink
- Almond Cherry Recovery Smoothie
- Strawberry Banana Quinoa Smoothie
- Vegan Orange Mango Recovery Smoothie