What do you reach for to recover after a tough workout? If you're like most people, you reach for a protein shake of some sort. But while protein does provide an important component, recovering with a fruit smoothie may benefit you even more.
Why? Research indicates that using antioxidants as a part of exercise recovery can help diminish the oxidative stress on the body spurred by tough workouts. Read on to discover more about how antioxidants benefit your body and can help take your fitness to new heights.
Why Antioxidants?You're probably thinking, "If oxidants are so bad, what are antioxidants, then? I thought oxygen was a good thing?" And you're right. Your body needs oxygen to thrive and grow. However, oxidation occurs when molecules known as free radicals steal electrons from other molecules in your cells. When this process occurs, free radicals proliferate more, eventually taking over the cell, fully oxidizing it and leading to cell death. It negatively impacts sports performance, as fewer healthy muscle cells exist to power you through your workouts.
Antioxidants help reverse the action of free radicals, rejuvenating cells. A diet rich in antioxidants will benefit recovery, as intense aerobic exercise increases oxidative stress.
You might think, "Well, why not skip the gym altogether?" Bad idea. Besides the other positive health effects of regular exercise — decreased risks of developing cardiovascular disease, obesity and type II diabetes, for instance — over time, exercise increases your body's resistance to oxidative stress. That's one reason you often feel sore after working out if you've been sedentary for some time but experience decreased muscle soreness as your fitness level rises.
What Are Some Good Sources of Antioxidants?Many people mistakenly assume that taking an antioxidant supplement after exercising will reduce aching. However, research indicates that antioxidant-loading like this may carry the adverse effect of causing someone to experience diarrhoea. In one such study, participants using antioxidant supplements post-exercise developed gastrointestinal distress, including a case of the runs. Therefore, rather than powering up on antioxidants only after workouts, eating a diet naturally high in them proves superior.
What are some of the most common antioxidant-rich foods?Some Asian herbs provide a powerful antioxidant boost. For example, Pegaga aids in wound healing and boosts cognitive function. It also helps post-natal mothers recover from childbirth, especially if they've had a cesarean section.
If you're a choco-holic, you're in luck. Dark chocolate contains up to 15 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces, making it one of the richest sources out there. Take a pass on milk chocolate sweetened with sugar, however, to protect against insulin resistance and safeguard your dental health.
Berries make for a rich source of antioxidants too. Deep red and blue-colored berries contain the most phytonutrients as well. Gorge yourself on blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, which are naturally low in calories.
Dark, leafy greens contain high antioxidant levels. Spinach, kale and Swiss chard can power you with superfood goodness, and they also provide a rich source of magnesium, a natural mood booster.
You can drink your antioxidants too. Most juices, like pomegranate juice, contain high levels, although store-bought varieties may contain a ton of added sugar. Shop natural health food stores for your stash — pomegranate juice is handy to have available if you're prone to urinary tract infections. Most teas, especially green tea, contain antioxidants, too. Just be careful what you add — adding milk to tea blocks antioxidants, defeating the purpose.
Suggested Recipes for Post-Workout Recovery
What can you eat or drink after a hard gym workout or just throughout the course of your day to increase your antioxidant intake without the resulting gastrointestinal distress? Here are some great recipes to get you started on your journey:
- Kale salad with green goddess yogurt dressing: This great recipe combines the antioxidant effects of kale with the probiotic-rich goodness of creamy yogurt. The probiotic content can combat any intestinal distress if you're unused to consuming high amounts of antioxidants. This combination makes a great workday grab-and-go lunch to mix up beforehand (store the dressing separately to keep the kale crisp) and take to the office.
- Antioxidant triple berry smoothie: This recipe combines blueberries, strawberries and raspberries with yogurt for another well-balanced meal or snack of antioxidants and probiotics. Try it as post-workout recovery fuel or part of a healthy breakfast.
- 20-minute creamy spinach artichoke pasta: Artichoke is another great source of antioxidants, especially combined with deep, green spinach. And because this recipe cooks up quickly, it's perfect for those evenings when a grueling workout leaves you too tired to play Martha Stewart for hours.