Last year, it was reported that the supplement industry is worth more than $37 billion, more than $25 billion beyond the previous estimate.
This exponentially-growing business has led to the birth of thousands of new companies, each pushing its own ideas about nutritional supplement needs.
For the health-conscious, this can make figuring out a cost-effective and scientifically-supported way to fuel your muscles an overwhelming task. Nutritionists such as Laura Burdick, R.D., L.D., make the job easier.
Let’s start with the basics. What is the purpose of post-workout supplementation?
“Post-workout supplementation serves many purposes, including replenishing nutrient stores used during workout, rehydration, building muscle, improving your ability to burn fat, and providing powerful antioxidants to fight inflammation and repair damage caused by a strenuous workout,” Burdick says. “Purposeful nutrition can help to prevent workout-related injuries and speed recovery from strenuous exercise.”
However, it’s not just the quality of the nutritional supplement; it’s also the timing. A 2006 study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that those who took their protein directly after their workout had better strength metrics than those who took it at other times of the day.
“Scientific evidence supports the effectiveness of post-recovery nutrition for enhanced workout results, especially within the first 60 minutes after exercise,” Burdick says. “Studies show that fueling the body during this time period can promote optimal muscle growth, allow your body to store more energy and extend your ability to burn fat for a longer period of time after your workout – up to several hours longer.”
All of this sounds great, but in practice, this can be expensive. Depending on the supplement, post-workout recovery drinks can run anywhere between $25-$40 a month, making the yearly budget for post-workout supplementation more than $300 each year. When you add that price into a monthly gym membership, which also runs at around $20-$30 a month, you are paying a total of about $600 each year on fitness. There has to be a better option to help keep this cost down.
“Commercial recovery supplements are designed to provide the body with key nutrients post-workout, but can be costly. Many alternatives are available for those who wish to reap the benefits without breaking the bank,” Burdick says. “For example, it has been said that low-fat or whole milk is one of the most complete foods, as it contains all three major nutrients: carbohydrates and fat for energy, protein for lean tissue (muscle), and a variety of vitamins and minerals to help the body function optimally.”
Not only is milk available nearly everywhere, it has a lower price tag to boot. It also allows for more creativity in post-workout shakes. Other varieties of milk, such as chocolate milk, have added benefits.
“Chocolate milk as a post-workout option makes great sense, as it contains additional carbohydrates to quickly replenish energy,” says Burdick. “An added benefit of chocolate milk is calcium and vitamin D to promote optimal bone density, especially in teens and young women.”
But after a while, just like a gym routine, the same post-workout drink can get boring. If it’s time to try something completely different, whole foods might be the answer.
“Whole foods can be great alternatives to post-recovery drinks,” says Burdick. “Acai bowls are gaining popularity as a ‘smoothie in a bowl,’ combined with nuts for healthy fat and grains – quinoa, oats, low sugar granola, etc. Greek yogurt offers the same mix of carbs, protein and fat as milk, and can be eaten with a spoon or consumed as a beverage.”
Post-workout supplements are essential, says Burdick, but the supplement – just like the workout itself – must be tailored to the needs of the individual.
“Consuming a post-workout recovery drink or snack makes sense for anyone, of any age, who exercises,” she says. “They are vital to getting the best results from your workout, keeping your body functioning at its best and keeping you working out injury-free. The best choice for you will be simple, convenient and enjoyable.”
David Allen is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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