Let’s be honest – there are lot of foods you know you should be eating, but aren’t. Most everyone went through a childhood phase where fruits and vegetables were the devil, so Mom had to hide them somewhere delicious just so your diet didn’t consist exclusively of Gushers and grilled cheese. She snuck broccoli in your lasagna, squirreled away raisins into your cookies, and ah, who could forget the ol’ birthday-cake-full-of-lima-beans trick? It made for an excellent seventh birthday, didn’t it? No? Just me?
You’re an adult now, and still not eating the way you’re supposed to. A “rainbow diet” is advocated as ideal, with every color of the rainbow expressed in either fruit or vegetable form every day. (Skittles don’t count. 🙁 I checked. I’d taste that rainbow everyday if I could.)
Here’s a run-down of five sweet ways to give your body what it needs after that killer sesh at the climbing gym, that ultra-intense Vinyasa class, or a cross-training night spent at the gym.
During workouts, your muscles burn glucose to convert it to energy. Your blood sugar levels can be at their lowest after exercising. It’s important to replenish your body’s glucose stores by ingesting something sweet after intense exercise. Set down the Little Debbies though, hot shot, it can’t be just anything sweet. Unlike many other simple carbohydrates, it takes your body longer to process the sugars in honey. So instead of seeing the sudden rise, and sharp drop in blood sugar levels that other simple sugars cause, honey will actually raise, then maintain your blood glucose level. This actually refuels your muscles and leaves you “buzzing” for your next workout. Haha, a bee pun! Get it? God, I’m funny.
2. Hot Chocolate
Besides being delicious, hot chocolate is actually a pretty effective and cheap post-workout recovery drink. The small caffeine content in chocolate dilates your blood vessels, allowing more blood to rush to begin repairing sore, exhausted muscles. Flavonoids, plant-produced metabolites similar to antioxidants, are another blood flow increaser produced by chocolate. Make sure the hot cocoa is made of real chocolate — most pre-packaged hot chocolate powders are Swiss Miss-ing the point (heh), because they contain unnecessary sugars and lack the natural antioxidants that real chocolate contains. While drinking hot liquids should not be part of your regular post-workout routine because of its inflammatory effects, the heat in warm drinks can soothe spasming muscles.
Note: Chocolate milk works well, too, but antioxidants are more effective after they’re heated up. Also, I dunno about anyone else, but the last thing I want after a workout is any sort of dairy content, unless it’s neatly packaged between two tortillas and drowning in salsa.
To combat post-exercise soreness, cherries are the way to go. The darker the cherry, the better, so you can’t just throw an extra Maraschino or two in your Old Fashioned and call it a day. (Or do, you drunk.) Black cherries get their pigment from anthocyanins, which boost the flow of oxygen to your muscles. Long used as a treatment for arthritis and gout, cherries increase your body’s ability to heal itself and decrease ensuing muscle weakness after strenuous activities. I know, I know, Grandma’s advice can sometimes be dodgy, but trust her on this one; cherries are the cherry bomb for reducing muscle and joint inflammation. (These puns. Someone save me from myself.)
4. Greek Yogurt
Protein is a must-have after any workout, and peanut butter is the obvious choice as a sweet source of protein. But the Jif Gods don’t smile kindly upon all of us, and some of us – more allergic – mere mortals are doomed to an existence without the salty-sweet glory that is peanut butter. For the non-lactose intolerant, an average serving of lightly-flavored Greek yogurt has between 11 and 20g of protein, the perfect amount to help your muscles repair the small tears incurred during a hard workout. (Studies show that the benefits of protein begin to drop off after 20g.) An added bonus is the yogurt’s calcium content, which will keep your bones strong so you can continue benching 220 well into your golden years, you old dog, you.
5. Ring Pops
Ok, this one is partly an attempt to validate my insatiable love for this edible jewelry. While there’s no real benefit to ingesting sugary candy after a workout (besides the immeasurable happiness, that is), post-exercise is the best time to consume simple sugars if you find yourself craving them. Your glucose-depleted muscles will immediately put the sugars to use, instead of letting them go straight to your love handles. I’m all-for staying ultra-committed to a healthy diet — but if there’s a time to cheat, it’s right after heavy exercise.
While this post is in no way encouraging the over-consumption of these foods (Don’t go all kid in a candy store on me), in moderation, these foods could definitely benefit your post-workout recovery while satisfying your sweet tooth all at the same time.