Are you gearing up for that elusive full Ironman finish, or a podium place at the next adventure race in the Lowveld?
Now, training intensely for months can be of great value for the preparation process for specific sports events or competitions. But – and this word always seems to lurk around the preparation corner – to ensure that performance is optimal at all times, there are various aspects that you need to keep in mind.
As all body functions require energy; nutrition is a key ingredient before, during and after your workout – think of it as the fuel to your muscles’ engine. Recovery nutrition is not always seen as the main priority – it often plays a quite distant second fiddle to your pre-workout drink. However, fuelling the body appropriately after your workout is extremely important for sustainable performance.
Post-workout nutrition is a fascinating topic as it can improve various functions in the body, namely:
- Replenish glycogen stores
- Decrease protein breakdown
- Increase protein synthesis
- Repair any damage caused by the workout
Anticipated benefits of good post-workout nutrition include:
- Improved recovery
- Less muscle tenderness
- Increased ability to build muscle
- Improved immune function
- Improved bone mass
- Improved ability to burn body fat
The benefits of post-nutrition are clearly highlighted, but the reason for its importance is something we can all strive to understand a bit better.
When we train or workout, we damage tissues and we use fuel to provide sufficient energy. Remember, the faster your muscle train wants to roll on the tracks, the more high quality coal it needs. Likewise, the repair and rebuilding process needs optimal nutrition to ensure protein synthesis for muscle recovery and to replenish glycogen stores.
Therefore protein, as well as carbohydrates, is required during the post-workout period. This is also very dependent on the goals that you want to achieve.
A very important facet to keep in mind is the availability of certain nutrients. If glucose and amino acids are available (carbs and protein in their simplest form), then the body is signalled to utilise those nutrients to rebuild and replenish.
The post-workout period when nutrition should be ingested, is often referred to as the ‘window of opportunity’. During this time muscle repair, growth and strength can be achieved by adequate protein ingestion or protein synthesis.
As when chatting up that hot marshal at the trail run, nutrition’s window of opportunity also only has limited time available – it lasts up to two hours after training. If inadequate nutrition is provided post-exercise and not quickly enough, muscle glycogen storage and protein synthesis are delayed. Therefore it is vital to take advantage of this opportunity to fully reap the rewards.
The first thought is often to eat a whole food meal immediately after exercise. However, this is not always practical and it depends on various factors.
Some people have a reduced appetite following intense exercise. On the other hand, consuming a liquid form of nutrition that contains fast-absorbing nutrients such as rapidly digesting carbohydrates (maltodextrin, dextrose, glucose and more) and protein (protein hydrolysates or isolates) are often better tolerated.
Data has shown that ingesting approximately 20 grams of protein after your workout may initiate protein synthesis. With intense workouts/training, the ideal is to ingest 30 grams of carbs and 15 grams of protein in 500 ml water per hour. It can be sipped during your training of taken afterwards.
When aiming for specific goals such as losing body fat – use BCAA’s (Branch Chained Amino Acids) as a workout drink. Leaner athletes, who still want to lose body fat, should choose a smaller dosage (1/2 dose) of protein and carbohydrate combination, or opt for BCAA’s.
Now, let us get practical. What should ideally be eaten afterwards?
It is no secret that everyone differs in what their food preferences are, as well as the state of their appetite. Therefore two factors should be kept in mind.
The foods should be:
- Loaded in quality carbohydrate to replenish muscle fuel stores.
- Contain some lean protein to promote muscle repair.
- Include a source of fluid and electrolytes to rehydrate efficiently.
There is no “best” option for what to eat after exercise. Dairy products such as flavoured milk, smoothies or yoghurt can be a fantastic option as they provide carbs, protein, fluid and enough electrolytes – ticking all the recovery goals in one handy option.
There are some other options too!
Immediate recovery foods:
- 800 ml sports drink of cordial (average)
- 50 grams jelly beans
- Chocolate milk
- Three slices of fruit
- Sports gels
Other recovery food options may include:
- Lean chicken and salad sandwich
- Bowl of oats with berries and fresh milk
- Fresh fruit salad topped with Greek yoghurt
- Spaghetti with lean beef bolognaise sauce
- Chicken wrap with salad and cheese
- Small tin of tuna on crackers with a banana
Hydration is such an important part of sports nutrition and should be a huge priority post workout. The ideal fluid is once again goal-dependent.
If fluid is mainly used for rehydration purposes, then water or an electrolyte drink are great options. When drinking to meet your carbohydrate, protein and electrolyte goals; then sports drinks, protein shakes and dairy-based drinks (such as chocolate flavoured drinks or fruit smoothies) are more than enough.
Finishing a race with a medal or an improved time is a great personal reward. Now reward your body by eating and drinking wisely after your training session.
Whether it is a smoothie, a fresh fruit salad or jelly babies; sustainable performance and results are guaranteed.
After all, we are what we eat and the success of your next big adventure can rely heavily on how well you allow your body to recover after exercise.