Creating the Perfect Workout Smoothie

Whether you're exercising for health or striving to become a more competitive athlete, it's important to properly fuel your body before and after your workouts. Smoothies are a common go-to: They're refreshing and easy to drink, and you can customize them to include the nutrients you need and the flavors you love.

Curious about how to create your perfect workout smoothie? Let's look at exactly what you need before and after your training sessions and what foods can provide you with those nutrients.

Pre-Workout Needs

Carbohydrates provide the quick energy you need during exercise, so they should be your primary focus right before the main event. If you're engaging in high-intensity exercise for longer than 60 minutes, the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that you aim to get 0.5 to 2 grams of carbs per pound of body weight 1 to 4 hours prior to your workout. This pre-fueling will contribute to your body's total carbohydrate stores, especially those that you depleted while fasting during sleep the previous night.

It's also important that you give your body enough time digest the pre-workout meal -- this will help avoid any stomach issues during training. If you prefer to eat two or more hours before exercising, have a fully balanced meal that includes carbohydrates. If you like to eat closer to your workout, a smoothie that includes quick-digesting carbs is a great choice.

Post-Workout Replenishment

After you finish your training session, prioritize protein and carbohydrates, giving precedence to protein.

Your muscles are more sensitive to protein after both aerobic- and resistance-based exercise. This means that, in the 24 hours after a workout, your body uses the protein you consume to build muscle at a greater rate than it would if you hadn't exercised. You'll get the most muscle-building bang for your buck during the two hours immediately after training. This incredibly cool bodily function is something everyone who exercises can take advantage of, not just top-level athletes.

Your post-workout smoothie should also contain some carbs. When you exercise, you deplete glycogen -- the form of carbohydrate stored in the muscle -- so you want to replenish those stores. Timing is important here, as well: The carbs you consume in the first six hours after exercise will be the most effective for rebuilding muscle.

Creating Your Recipe

So what are the best whole-food ingredients to include in your workout smoothie to get the nutrients you need? Here are some suggestions:

  • Protein. The proteins that your body can absorb most effectively are from animal sources. Milk and yogurt are great additions to a smoothie, as they provide high-quality protein and add a creamy texture. If you opt for a protein powder, look for whey protein, which is derived from milk and highly absorbable. If you're vegan or vegetarian, soy- or pea-based protein powders are a great choice. Try to find protein powders made from natural sources with few added ingredients.
  • Carbohydrates. The carb options for your smoothie are truly endless. Bananas and berries are popular options, but any fruit will provide the carbohydrates your body needs both pre- and post-workout. Some even like to add oats or wheat germ to their smoothies for extra fiber and nutrients. The blender lets you take in some complex, nutrient-dense carbohydrate sources pre-workout by breaking up some of their fiber for you, making them easier to digest.
  • Electrolytes. After intense exercise sessions where you produce a lot of sweat, it's important to consume some electrolytes. The fruit and veggies you add to your smoothie naturally contain many of the electrolytes you need, such as potassium and magnesium. If you add dairy products, you'll get sodium and phosphorus, as well. Those four micronutrients should have you covered in the electrolyte department. If you don't do dairy, add some coconut water to round out your electrolyte intake.
  • Healthy fats. While fats aren't utilized in an optimized way after exercising -- as protein and carbohydrates are -- they still offer many health benefits and will help you feel more satisfied with your smoothie. Chia seeds, flaxseed, nuts, coconut oil, and avocado are all great choices to add to your smoothie.

For optimal recovery, remember to eat nutrient-rich whole foods that provide protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats throughout the day. Now go get your workout in, pull out that blender, and make a mean smoothie!

Christina Manian is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Originally from the Boston area, she attended Boston University where she majored in nutritional sciences with a concentration in dietetics. She recently completed her nutrition education at the Mayo Clinic with a focus on medical nutrition therapy. While her background has mostly been in the clinical setting, Christina embraces wellness nutrition as the backbone of optimum health. She is excited to be able to educate a larger audience about nutrition through the written word.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.