What you eat—and when you eat it—post-workout is vital to your body’s ability to build and adapt from the training session. Insufficient protein, carbohydrate, fluids or electrolyte intake translates to a missed opportunity in important muscle recovery and adaptation.
Consider these nutrients and guidelines to get the most from your recovery window:
Carbohydrates are the fuel source for your muscles. To replenish what is lost during exercise (and restore your muscle glycogen), you should consume carbs as soon as possible following exercise. The recom mended carbohydrate intake for an athlete is 1–1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight per hour for the first four hours. This means that a 170-pound athlete should consume 77–93 grams of carbs immediately following exercise.
Protein is the building block of an athlete’s diet and is essential in the recovery process. Consuming protein along with carbohydrates stimulates faster glycogen replacement and also optimizes muscular repair and growth. Athletes should consume at least 20 grams of high-quality protein in the 30–60 minutes following activity to ensure maximum benefit of muscle-protein synthesis. Optimally, you want to keep a carbohydrate-to-protein ratio of 4 to 1. It’s best if these carbohydrate sources are complex carbohydrates and the protein is of high biological value (contains all nine essential amino acids). If you’re short on time and can’t refuel with whole foods, a high-protein meal replacement shake or smoothie will suffice. Find a protein powder that contains at least 20 grams of protein, and blend with fresh fruit and a small handful of almonds or walnuts. Try to use a protein powder that contains leucine, isoleucine and valine (branched chain amino acids).
Think Outside the Blender/Bar
Whole foods that restore muscles
– Brown rice and lean ground turkey
– Whole-wheat pasta with salmon or chicken tenderloin
– Low-fat chocolate milk
– 2–3 eggs with whole-wheat toast
– Tuna fish sandwich with mixed vegetables
– Grilled chicken breast with half a sweet potato
– Baked salmon with black beans
Replacing Fluids and Electrolytes
The body works to maintain a balance of fluid and sodium between the blood and cells. Without proper sodium replacement you are at risk of becoming hyponatremic (abnormally low blood sodium level), a potentially dangerous condition with symptoms that include nausea, headache, confusion, fatigue and cramping. To avoid it, you’ll want to stay in tune with your sweat rate. You can determine your sweat rate by weighing yourself before a workout, subtracting your post-workout weight and adding the ounces of fluid you consumed during. For example, 130–129 pounds = 16 ounces fluid loss + 16 ounces fluid consumed = sweat rate of 32 ounces (2 pounds) per hour. Limit your weight loss to less than 2 percent of body weight through proper fluid and electrolyte replacement without overdrinking. Drink 3 cups (24 ounces) for every pound of body weight lost. Reach for salty foods (soup, pretzels, salted crackers), a more sodium-rich source as compared to purely sports drinks.
Matt Triick, R.D., L.D is a two-time USAT All American and a current member of the Middle Georgia Triathlon Club and Big Sexy Racing.