Post Exercise Nutrition: What to Eat and When
June 05, 2012
Do you ever feel sluggish and sore after an intense work out? Is your performance at the next workout then impaired due to not feeling 100 percent? It may be due to improper refueling after exercise. While most people know of the importance of pre-exercise nutrition, many are not aware that post-exercise nutrition is critical to muscle recovery and the athlete’s ability to train consistently. Not refueling properly may also make you more prone to illness and injury.
During exercise, the body uses both carbohydrate and fat for fuel. Unused glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen for later use. Pre exercise meals are important to ensure adequate glycogen is stored in the muscle. Most people perform best if they eat 1-3 hours before exercising. If the workout is intense (greater than 60 minutes) you will need to ingest a source of carbohydrate during exercise as well to replenish glycogen stores.
Post Exercise Nutrition
The goals of post exercise nutrition include:
Eat/Drink Carbohydrate Within the First 30 Minutes
- restoring fluids and electrolytes lost in sweat
- replenishing muscle fuel (glycogen) used during exercise
- providing protein to aid in repairing damaged muscle tissue and stimulate the development of new tissue
It is recommended to consume a carbohydrate containing food or fluid 15-30 minutes after exercise. This window of time is important because it is when the body is most receptive to replacing glycogen stores. Waiting longer than two hours to eat results in 50 percent less glycogen stored in muscle, you may feel fatigued and your performance the next day will suffer. Consuming carbohydrates higher on the glycemic index after exercise can help replenish glycogen stores faster. The quicker and higher a food raises your blood sugar, the higher it is on the glycemic index. The amount can vary by individual, workout conditions and intensity but in general consuming 0.5 to 0.7 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight within 30 minutes of exercise is optimal. Some examples of good choices include fruit, yogurt, honey and nutrition bars. Sports drinks, milk and 100 percent natural juices are also good choices. Eat Again Within 2 Hours
Protein is also important after exercise. Protein provides the amino acids necessary to rebuild muscle tissue that is damaged during an intense workout. In addition to consuming carbohydrate containing food or fluid 15-30 minutes after exercise, eating a more substantial snack or meal within 2 hours after exercise is often recommended. A high carbohydrate meal or snack with protein such as peanut butter or meat sandwich with juice or milk, fruit and yogurt or crackers and low fat cheese are good choices. If you are hungry enough, an actual meal that contains meat or a protein substitute, whole grains and raw or cooked vegetables is a good plan. Generally, a person can consume approximately 1 gram of protein for every 10 pounds of body weight within an hour or so of an intense workout and approximately 4 times the amount of carbohydrate. Many athletes consume too much protein and not enough carbohydrate after exercise. Only carbohydrate (which is converted to glycogen) can refuel your muscles for the next workout, so be sure not to skimp on the carbohydrates.
Milk, the New Sports Recovery Drink
If your appetite is lacking following exercise choose a liquid food such as a sports drink (carbohydrate, electrolyte, fluid) or low fat milk and low fat chocolate milk. In fact, new studies have shown low fat chocolate milk as a recovery beverage was just as good or better than traditional sports drinks at promoting recovery after exercise. Milk and chocolate milk contains carbohydrate, protein and electrolytes as well as calcium phosphorus and Vitamin D, without the expense or artificial colors of traditional sports drinks.
What you eat after exercising can make a significant difference in how you feel and your ability to exercise to your fullest. After you work out, your glycogen stores have become depleted. Skipping your post workout nutrition can cause prolonged soreness and premature muscle fatigue because of incomplete glycogen restoration. Developing a good post exercise nutrition plan is important to exercise and feel your best.
Kristen is a Registered Dietitian and Licensed Dietitian
Nutritionist. She is a graduate of Cornell University and specializes in
vegetarian, pediatric and sports nutrition. She currently resides in
Philadelphia with her husband and three boys. References
1. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (2009).Eating for recovery. Retrieved 5/15/2012
2. Josephson S. Recovery Nutrition. NSCA’s Performance Training Journal. 2003 Oct:2(5):16-17.
3. Lunn WR, Pasiakos SM, Colletto MR, Karfonta KE, Carbone JW, Anderson JM, Rodriguez NR. Chocolate milk and endurance exercise recovery: protein balance, glycogen, and performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Apr;44(4):682-91.
4. Rodriguez NR, DiMarco NM, Langley S; American Dietetic Association; Dietitians of Canada; American College of Sports 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 Mar;109(3):509-27.
5. Spaccarotella KJ, Andzel WD. The effects of low fat chocolate milk on post exercise recovery in collegiate athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Dec;25(12):3456-60.
Kristen Logue RD, LDN