Growing up in a family of athletes, I only wish I had known then what I know about recovery nutrition. Recovery nutrition is no joke; and really, it is no option either. After a bout of hard exercise your cells are open and ready to receive some nutrition. Most of us get a good workout in and then pat ourselves on the back for doing that. However, your workout isn’t over until you’ve recovered; regardless of if you’re a professional athlete, fitness junkie or exercise newbie. Here are 7 things to keep in mind regarding recovery nutrition that you need to start practicing now!
Although many of you might think that protein is the recovery nutrition star, really carbohydrates take the prize. Extra carbohydrates are stored in the liver and the muscles as glycogen for use when no food is present. Depending on the intensity of the workout, your body might have to tap into its glycogen stores in order to provide the energy to surge through your workout. Following the workout, it is imperative to replenish these stores with fast digesting carbohydrates like honey, white rice and fruit juice and in order to be ready for your next workout. This is really the only time that simple sugars like these are appropriate! Aim for 1-1.2 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight immediately after exercise.
Now onto protein! During intense workouts, your muscles are torn and it’s when they repair that they grow and become stronger. Protein consumption following your workout will help your muscles better repair, as well as stimulate the growth of new muscle. A 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein will usually do this trick or around 20-25 grams of protein immediately after exercise. Since your body can only absorb a certain amount of protein at one time, aim for small but adequate doses of protein 24-48 hours following your workout as well.
During a grueling workout, it’s very easy to become dehydrated if you don’t replenish your fluids. One of the easiest ways to prevent fluid loss is to do a sweat loss trial. Weigh yourself before your workout and then again after. For every pound lost, consume 16-24 ounces of fluid within one to three hours after your workout. Along with food, fluids are very important to replenish too!
4. Vitamins and Minerals
When you sweat, you lose vital electrolytes too. Things like sodium and potassium can easily be lost in large amounts if you are not careful. Depending on the intensity of your workout, you may need to pay special attention to your vitamin and mineral levels too. Even a small nutrition deficiency can hinder athletic performance, therefore eating an adequate diet becomes even more important. In most cases, a well-balanced diet will provide of the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytonutrients that will keep you well-fueled, healthy and performing your best!
5. Weight Loss
If you are an athlete and weight loss is your goal, never slack on your recovery nutrition in order to save calories. Instead, use the time following a workout to maximize your performance and then really keep your diet clean at the rest of the meals. Another trick to maximize performance while striving for weight loss is to plan your workout directly before a mealtime. This way you will still get the benefits of recovery nutrition without the extra calories.
6. Weight Gain
Although it might seem crazy to some people, as an athlete, it can actually be slightly hard to gain weight. Depending on the intensity and duration of your workouts, it can be difficult to keep up with the calories burned through exercise. If you are trying to gain weight, your post-exercise meal/snack can easily be a complement to the other meals in your day. After your workout, consume your post-exercise meal/snack and then wait about an hour to have your next meal. Focus on healthy fats, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables in order to stay healthy while trying to put on good weight.
While I always encourage that everyone, including athletes, get their nutrition from food first, sometimes this can be a rather challenging task. If eating whole foods is not possible, plan out other healthy options, including supplements, if needed. As the wife of a former baseball player, I knew chicken breast wasn’t exactly a portable option on his long bus rides through the night, therefore, sometimes a protein shake was his next best option. Reach for whole foods first and use supplements when whole foods are difficult to obtain.
As the field of nutrition continues to progress, the topic of recovery nutrition is still very new. While we don’t know everything right now, we do know that the things mentioned above are crucial when it comes to maximizing performance! Do you recover after each tough workout?