Is your post-workout fuel helping you recover?
When we exercise, we use stored energy and tear muscle fibers. To recover, we must consume specific nutrients to replenish used energy, stimulate muscle repair and rehydrate. We do this by consuming carbohydrates for glycogen resynthesis and protein for muscle repair and growth, while consuming fluids helps deliver recovery nutrients throughout the body via the blood.
Meal or snacks?
Recovery nutrition can be supplied via a full meal or in snacks.
Your recovery meal should ideally contain carbohydrates, high-quality protein, fats, and colorful fruits/veggies. Although your personal portions will differ from others, you can generally think of your recovery plate as one-half veggies like a salad or roasted broccoli, one-quarter protein like grilled chicken or pan-fried tofu, and one-quarter carbohydrates like brown or white rice, with healthy fats, such as olive oil, used in the cooking process.
Snacks eaten after workouts can also support recovery, especially if your next meal isn’t for a few hours. The best strategy is to consume carbohydrates and protein. For carbohydrates, you might have a granola bar, pretzels, toast, or fresh/dried fruit. Protein is supplied by eggs, nut butters, yogurt, or nuts. You might also consider a simple protein powder, which you can throw into a shaker bottle and fill with water at the end of your training session. Choose the snacks you enjoy and will remember to eat!
In order for recovery nutrients to move throughout the body in the blood, we need to be hydrated. Ideally, you’ll want to go into your training hydrated and consume fluids throughout, but you can also rehydrate afterwards. Aim for at least eight ounces of fluids after your session concludes. Have water, juice, or a sports drink. Consider adding Gnarly Hydrate or Fuel2O to water for added rehydration.
What is ‘high-quality’ protein?
A protein that is “high-quality” contains all of the essential amino acids that cannot be synthesized in the body and is easily digestible. It is especially high in leucine, the amino acid largely thought to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.1Examples of high-quality proteins include salmon, tuna, red meat, poultry, dairy products, and eggs. Although plant-based proteins are not complete (i.e., do not contain all essential amino acids), soy products, peanuts, and black beans are good sources of protein when combined with complementary proteins, such as whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
Does timing matter?
We used to consider the “window of opportunity” important for recovery. Many sports nutritionists suggest consuming recovery foods within 2 hours after a bout of exercise, but newer research may indicate this step is unnecessary, depending on pre- and post-fuel.2 Pre-workout fuel, along with meal components, may dictate recovery efficacy more so than the timing. If your meal prior to a workout was consumed 2-3 hours before, this may support recovery. Similarly, if your post-workout meal contains adequate carbohydrates and protein, you could potentially prolong this meal to 4-6 hours after. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide. If you’d rather consume recovery foods closer to your workout to ensure you are getting what you need, that is your strategy! But if consuming foods right after a workout doesn’t appeal to you due to time constraints, appetite suppression from your workout, or your preferences, you can still support recovery at your next mealtime.
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- Zaromskyte, G et al. (2021). Evaluating the leucine trigger hypothesis to explain the post-prandial regulation of muscle protein synthesis in young and older adults: A systematic review. Frontiers in Nutrition, 8. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2021.685165/full
- Aragon, AA & BJ Schoenfeld. (2013). Nutrient timing revisited: Is there a post-exercise anabolic window? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(5). https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-10-5