Understanding nutrition’s role during athletic recovery

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When it comes to establishing an effective athletic recovery routine, nutrition is one of the more taken-for-granted ways of improving your body while you’re not at the gym. It’s easy to overlook how the foods and beverages we consume actually help alleviate soreness throughout the body and can enhance various functions, from repairing muscle to re-hydrating tissues so we can maximize our performance for that next run or weightlifting session. But it takes more than merely eating a salad or avoiding soda every so often to augment our post-workout recovery process. Here are some essential dietary tips to ease and condition your body so you’re rejuvenated the next day:

Know your nutrients

Most athletes know that eating healthy foods is important to aid their exercise routine, but perhaps they don’t fully comprehend why. For starters, nutrition is the foundation for providing you with the energy necessary to succeed in your workout. According to the National Institutes of Health, people are more likely to be fatigued and perform poorly during physical activity if they haven’t consumed enough carbohydrates, iron, protein, calories and other sources of vitamins and minerals. Athletes need to understand how each of these nutritional elements plays a role in enhancing their productivity and potential. For instance, carbohydrates are the primary nutritional source for energy, which stores itself in the muscles and liver and is expended during physical activity. The NIH suggests that more than half of your calories come from carbohydrates, which are abundant in bread, pasta, rice and whole grain products. It also helps to consume carbohydrates as you exercise, like eating a granola bar when taking a momentary break.

Protein is the basis for repairing your body’s tissues as well as developing and maintaining muscle growth. However, the relationship between protein and muscle development is often misconstrued. The NIH reports that the majority of Americans consume nearly twice as much protein as is necessary for muscle growth, and excess protein is eventually stored as increased body fat and raises the risk for dehydration during physical activity. According to researchers from Vanderbilt University, the average sedentary adult needs only 30 to 60 grams of protein per day, and athletes should only consume a little bit more than average to replace amino acids burned up during physical activity. The best time to ingest protein is right after you’ve endured any variation of strength training exercises, and eating a high-protein meal within an hour after working out can help repair sore muscles.

Get your fluids

Yes, carbohydrates and protein are the building blocks for energy and muscle growth, but without adequate fluid intake, your body will be struggling after an intense workout. The NIH states that athletes who engage in just one hour of strenuous exercise can lose up to several liters of sweat, and right after you get done performing physical activity is the most important time to load up on all the fluids you’ve just lost. Hydration affects your athletic recovery in a variety of ways, ranging from keeping your heart rate from rising to maintaining an adequate body temperature. The NIH lists the proper fluid intake recommended for before, during and after your workout, which includes drinking around 16 ounces of water in the hours leading up to exercise, nearly 1 cup of water every 15 minutes during a workout and at least 1 cup of water every 15 minutes after concluding exercise. In the four to six hours while you’re recovering from intense physical activity, Breaking Muscle suggests that athletes should consume between 125 to 150 percent of the estimated amount of fluids they lost during exercise. This can be translated into drinking either 24 ounces or 3 cups of water for every pound you lose while working out.

Vitamins and minerals

Vitamins and minerals are the nutritional factors that get specific as to how they aid athletic recovery. Each individual nutrient is responsible for enhancing a particular area of the body after working out, and knowing how each ones affects you is the secret to creating the ultimate post-exercise diet. Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E are two of the nutrients that can do wonders for athletes who are dealing with any pain or inflammation after a tough workout. A study published by the NIH found that endurance-focused athletes should be taking anywhere between 100-200 milligrams of vitamin E during post-workout recovery to prevent oxidative stress, which is a major source of fatigue. As for minerals, calcium is recommended as one of the best nutrients for preventing muscle cramping during or after exercise, and researchers from the University of Michigan suggest that all adult athletes should be receiving at least 1,000 mg per day to enhance physical performance.

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