The Best Thing to Fuel up on Post-Workout Isn’t What You Think It Is

Photo: Getty Images/ Nontapan Nuntasiri/EyeEm
For as long as I can remember, I've been guzzling protein-spiked smoothies or eating some form of protein like a robot post-workout. Because that's what I—along with everyone else—have been conditioned to think is the healthiest thing to refuel with. But then, I found out that chowing down on antioxidants is actually a smarter idea in terms of recovery.

The key thing about antioxidants is that they're the antidote to free radicals—and free radicals are flying around in your body like crazy after a grueling sweat sesh. “When you exercise, it triggers more free radical activity—and free radicals cause oxidative stress and inflammation," says Carla Oates, founder of The Beauty Chef and expert on inner beauty health.  "Antioxidants help mop up these troublesome molecules, so it’s important to consume antioxidants post exercise."

Antioxidants are always healthy, of course, because of their benefits to your digestion, immunity, and, well, overall health (considering a lot are found in fruits and veggies). But they're smart to load onto your plate post-workout because of the free radical-fighting aspect, which give it a one-up on protein.  "Many people take antioxidants before and after exercise in the hope that it'll combat oxidative stress and reduce muscle soreness," says Lisa Richards, certified nutritionist and creator of The Candida Diet. Though she says that antioxidants don't work that fast in regards to the muscle recovery aspect, one study has shown that they do reduce the oxidative stress from your workout.

"Taking antioxidants can reduce overall oxidative stress and damage from free radicals," says Richards. "But maintaining a consistent, healthy level of antioxidants is a better strategy than trying to megadose after a workout. Large, occasional doses of single antioxidants can also cause digestive upset or other symptoms, depending on the exact supplement." So if you're already fueling up on antioxidants regularly, you should be in good shape—but it still could be a good idea to fill up with leafy greens and antioxidant-packed berries after you sweat. Good thing Barry's Bootcamp has a smoothie bar.

Also post-workout, you might want to try these relaxing workout recovery techniques that feel like a day at the spa. And here's what to know about muscle soreness recovery. 

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