Nutrition for Recovery
Accelerate your recovery with tips from one of Moji’s nutrition experts.
Allegra Burton, M.P.H., R.D.
Santa Monica, CA
- When and what you eat after exercise play a key role in recovery.
- The timing and composition of the post-exercise meal or snack depend on the duration and intensity of exercise and when the next exercise session will occur.
- Eating the right nutrients in a timely manner after exercise can help speed recovery and maximize training gains.
- Consuming carbohydrates and protein in a ratio of 4:1 is ideal for replenishing glycogen stores and repairing and building muscle.
- Replacing fluid lost during exercise is equally vital to recovery
When and what you eat after exercise are as important as what you eat before activity, and play a key role in recovery. You can speed your recovery and maximize your training gains after a hard workout or a competition if you eat and drink for recovery. The timing and composition of the post-exercise meal or snack depend on the duration and intensity of exercise and when the next exercise session will occur. Longer, more intense exercise sessions (e.g., running a marathon) deplete glycogen stores, whereas less glycogen is depleted during a 60-90 minute run. The sooner the next exercise session will occur, the sooner the post-exercise meal or snack should be eaten (1). For people who rest one or more days between intense exercise sessions, it is not as necessary to practice nutrient timing with regard to glycogen replenishment as long as they consume sufficient carbohydrates during the 24-hour period after exercise (2).
WHEN TO EAT AFTER EXERCISE
The optimal time to eat at least a snack is within 30 minutes after activity. Muscles are most receptive to replenishing depleted glycogen stores in a 15-30 minute window immediately following exercise (3,4). During this time, blood flow to muscles is enhanced and muscle cells can absorb more glucose because they are more sensitive to the effects of insulin, a hormone that directs the movement of glucose from the bloodstream to the cells. This process promotes the synthesis of glycogen. It takes up to 24 hours of refueling with carbohydrate-rich foods to completely replenish muscle glycogen stores. The longer an athlete waits to eat after exercise, the less glycogen that is stored and the longer it takes to recover.
WHAT TO EAT AFTER EXERCISE
Your initial post-exercise snack should be carbohydrate rich. After a hard workout, aim for 0.5-0.7 g carbohydrate/lb body weight (1.0-1.5 g carb/kg). Experts recommend consuming that amount of carbohydrates every two hours for the next four to six hours, or until the next full meal. Consuming this amount of carbohydrates during this time period results in higher glycogen levels after exercise than when consumption is delayed for two hours (4).
While eating carbohydrate-rich foods after exercise is important, research shows that including a small amount of protein along with carbohydrates in recovery meals and snacks enhances muscle repair and growth (1,5). Eating protein in combination with carbohydrates after exercise can increase the rate at which your muscles store glycogen and speed up the recovery and repair of muscle tissue. Experts recommend eating one gram of protein per four grams of carbohydrate (a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein).
Good examples of post-exercise beverages/foods that provide both carbohydrates and protein include low fat yogurt; low fat chocolate milk; fresh or dried fruit and nuts; nutrition/sports bars; whole grain cereal with skim, 1% or soy milk; or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Replenishing fluid lost during exercise is an essential part of recovery. Weigh yourself before and after exercise to estimate how much fluid you lost during exercise. A good rule of thumb for replacing sweat losses is to drink approximately 16 to 24 oz (450 to 675 mL) of fluid for every pound (0.5 kg) of body weight lost during exercise (6). Another good test – if your urine looks pale yellow, like lemonade, you are probably well-hydrated; if your urine looks dark yellow, like apple cider, you need to drink more fluids.
WHAT TO DRINK
For exercise lasting one hour or less, water is generally adequate to replace lost fluid. If exercise lasts more than one hour and/or is higher in intensity, good choices include a sports drink, fruit juice or chocolate milk, all of which provide fluid, carbohydrates and electrolytes.
A study that examined the effects of three different recovery drinks on endurance performance following glycogen-depleting exercise over three experimental trials found that the participants – trained cyclists – consuming chocolate milk sustained exercise for 51% and 43% longer than after consuming carbohydrate replacement and fluid replacement drinks, respectively. The study concluded that chocolate milk is an effective recovery aid after prolonged endurance exercise for subsequent exercise at low-moderate intensities (7). Chocolate milk has an optimal 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. Another study found that consuming milk after exercise can help mitigate exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD). The results found that when consumed immediately after resistance-based muscle damaging exercise, semi-skimmed milk and a milk-based carbohydrate-protein supplement helped to preserve more muscle than either a sports drink or water (8).
Consuming a combination of carbohydrate and protein in a ratio of 4:1 within 30 minutes after exercise is ideal for replenishing glycogen stores and repairing and building muscle. The longer the duration and the greater the intensity of exercise, the more carbohydrate and protein required for recovery. The sooner the next exercise session is to begin, the more important it is to consume the right nutrients in a timely manner to prepare for the next exercise session.
- Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109:509-527.
- Burke LM, Collier GR, Davis PG, Fricker PA, Sanigorski AJ, Hargreaves M. Muscle glycogen storage after prolonged exercise: Effect of the frequency of carbohydrate feedings. Am J Clin Nutr. 1996;64:115-119.
- Jentjens R, Jeukendrup A. Determinants of post-exercise glycogen synthesis during short-term recovery. Sports Med. 2003;33:117-144.
- Ivy JL, Katz AL, Cutler CL, Sherman WM, Coyle EF. Muscle glycogen synthesis after exercise: Effect of time of carbohydrate ingestion. J Appl Physiol. 1988;64:1480-1485.
- Rodriguez NR, Vislocky LM, Gaine PC. Dietary protein, endurance exercise, and human skeletal-muscle protein turnover. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2007;10:40-45.
- Sawka MN, Burke LM, Eichner ER, Maughan RJ, Montain SJ, Stachenfeld NS. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39:377-390.
- homas K, Morris P, Stevenson E. Improved endurance capacity following chocolate milk consumption compared with 2 commercially available sports drinks. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2009;34:78-82.
- Cockburn E, Hayes PR, French DN, Stevenson E, Gibson ASC. Acute milk-based protein-CHO supplementation attenuates exercise-induced muscle damage. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008;33(4):775-783.
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