Eat your way to muscle recovery - 5 of the best post-training meals

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Here are some quick ideas for anyone training hard and trying to get the best results in terms of muscle recovery.  I am not just talking about guys lifting heavy weights, guzzling protein and eating stacks of steaks.  Muscle recovery is important whatever type of exercise you do, be it for building muscle mass, or for a marathon, or for general fitness or training to lose weight.  If you are getting sore muscles, you are doing muscle damage and this needs to be repaired to progress your muscle condition and function. Whether you are an elite athlete or going to the gym after work to get fit, these recovery meals are for you. 

When we think of recovery we often focus on the immediate post-exercise 'window' where intake has been shown to optimize muscle recovery.  well done if you are planning ahead and taking a snack or drink containing 20-25g high quality, leucine-rich protein for straight after training, but sometimes it can be easy to forget about planning for the next meal after the initial recovery period.  Jose Areta and The Exercise and Nutrition Research Group at RMIT have done a lot of work in the area of protein and muscle and have indicated that regular protein doses spread every 3 hours over 12 or so hours post-exercise may result in optimal stimulus of muscle protein synthesis.  Recovery doesn't stop after the recovery 'window' is closed.  Your nutrition in the day/s after exercise will also impact on muscle recovery and conditioning. 

Recovery is not only about protein, but addressing your protein needs is a good start. Also include foods that provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy fats in your recovery meal.  Carbohydrate needs vary significantly depending on training just completed and the timing and type of your next session, as well as overall training, health and body composition goals.  Some days you may need more, sometimes you may not need too much at all in your recovery meal, and at different stages of the year your needs may differ also.

The 5 meal examples below will help you get your post-recovery recovery meal right.  Get your shopping list ready for better results at the gym or on the track. 

* Salmon with sweet potato mash and steamed greens, with soy/sesame dressing

Salmon is great for protein and healthy omega-3 fats.  Add some nutrient-rich green vegetables like broccolini, asparagus, green beans steamed only lightly to reduce heat exposure and therefore preserve vitamins.  Add a light Asian-style dressing with a base of soy sauce, maybe some fish sauce, toasted sesame seeds and chilli if you like.  Sweet potato will provide some nutritious carbohydrate.

* Beef and vegetable stir-fry with rice/grain/seed mix

A stir-fry is such a quick and easy meal after training, have everything chopped up ahead of time so all you have to do is cook it up.  Throw in a mix of colourful vegetables, like sliced capsicum, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy and mushrooms.  Maybe some cashews or almonds for extra protein, healthy fat and crunch? Serve with one of the range of rice/grain/seed mixes available at your local supermarket for a taste change and nutrient boost, especially good for endurance training sessions.

* Fish with white bean mash and salad

Don't be afraid of fish, it can be quick and easy to cook, in the pan or baked in foil or baking paper with herbs and lemon in the oven.  Instead of traditional mash, try white beans such as cannellini beans, canned are fine!  Heat with some garlic, chilli and oil and mash or keep it simple with lemon and parsley.  Don't forget some spinach or rocket for your greens.  This meal may be a bit light on carbohydrates for some. 

* Chicken with warm roast vegetables and quinoa

Grill chicken fillets and serve on top of cooked quinoa with pre-roasted vegetables.  Add some salt, oil and garlic to the vegetables when cooking and you won't need too much dressing on the salad, just a bit of lemon juice (pepitas are a great for texture, taste and nutrition added on the top).  Leftover salad is great for lunch the next day too!  A great option for all types of training, with a mix of protein and carbohydrate.

* Lamb with Greek salad

Simple lamb fillets or small lamb steaks or skewers can be easily grilled or cooked in pan, extra tasty if marinated ahead of time with lemon, garlic and herbs.  Serve with a tasty Greek-style salad with feta and olives.  Try adding some cooked pasta spirals to the Greek salad, keep the lettuce on the side, to create a quick pasta salad for lunch the next day.