It is during our sleeping hours when the body performs the repair and regeneration necessary to properly recover, however it is our nutritional intake during our waking hours that supplies the building blocks for recovery. In particular, it is the hours following a training session that are critical to maximize recovery and enhance future performance. In this post we will discuss the importance of post-workout nutrition and provide general recommendations.
While the cliché “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is debatable, the importance of post-workout nutrition is unquestionable. The stress imposed during training is merely a stimulus for your body to make a positive performance adaptation. Without the proper fuel and nutrients to follow up that training, your body has no way to make those positive changes. A sufficient post-workout feeding can improve recovery, lessen muscle soreness, build muscle, improve immune function, improve bone mass, and improve your body’s ability to utilize body fat for fuel.
The three primary goals of post-workout nutrition are to replenish glycogen stores, decrease protein breakdown, and increase protein synthesis. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrate housed in the muscle and liver. Carbohydrate is primary fuel that the body uses during any intensive activity. Through training, we deplete our energy stores and thus have a need to replete these energy stores post-workout.
If the maintenance or addition of muscle mass is critical to your performance or goals, an effort needs to be made to minimize protein breakdown and maximize protein synthesis. Protein synthesis and breakdown is a constant juggle throughout any day. During an intensive training session is one time of the day when protein breakdown is very high. The hard efforts we perform do not come without a cost, and that cost comes in the form of protein degradation. With the right fuel in the post-workout period, we can shift the balance back in favor of increased protein synthesis.
In the 1-2 hours following a workout session, there is a considerable increase in nutrient uptake and utilization. This period is often referred to as the “post-workout window,” or “window of opportunity.” Not only is it important to maximally utilize this window of opportunity, but if it is missed, we may lose some of our energy storage capacity and potential positive adaptations from an earlier training session. Protein and carbohydrate are the two critical macronutrients to consume post-workout. Consuming 20 grams of protein appears to the amount that maximally enhances protein synthesis. Consumption of greater than 20 grams has not been shown to offer any additional benefits in regards to protein synthesis. Carbohydrate recommendations differ, but consuming 30-40g of carbohydrate per hour of exercise may help to replenish glycogen stores. The ideal protein to carbohydrate ratio is in the area of 1:3 to 1:4. A liquid blend of protein and carbohydrate will be absorbed more quickly then a solid food meal, and is preferred during the post-workout window of opportunity.
Next up in the Recovery Series, Part 3- Compression and Cold Therapy