Post Exercise Nutrition Guide to Refuel and Recover

Post Exercise Nutrition Guide to Refuel and Recover

Getting the right nutrients after a long, strenuous workout is crucial for athletes so that you can still perform and train hard during your next workout, repair and grow muscle and prevent illness. Protein alone won’t do all that though! Carbohydrates and healthy fats, along with micronutrients like antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals shouldn’t be overlooked. These micronutrients help with delivering oxygen to your muscles, recovering from the oxidative stress that occurs with exercise, allow you to properly metabolize carbs, protein and fat and keep you healthy. How can you make sure your getting them in your diet? Prioritize nutritious, whole foods first before supplements. I’ll give you some simple ideas later in the article.

heart F&V

Getting the right nutrients after a long, strenuous workout is crucial for athletes so that you can still perform and train hard during your next workout, repair and grow muscle and prevent illness. Protein alone won’t do all that though! Carbohydrates and healthy fats, along with micronutrients like antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals shouldn’t be overlooked. These micronutrients help with delivering oxygen to your muscles, recovering from the oxidative stress that occurs with exercise, allow you to properly metabolize carbs, protein and fat and keep you healthy. How can you make sure your getting them in your diet? Prioritize nutritious, whole foods first before supplements. I’ll give you some simple ideas later in the article.

After an intense workout, you have used up some (or all) of your glycogen (stored carbohydrates) and will want to replenish this in time for your next workout. Think of it like gas in a tank that you want to fill up after a long car ride. If your next workout is less than 24 hours away, eating carbohydrates as soon as possible after the workout will help begin to replenish stores. In failing to do so, you may be fatigue earlier and be less focused and alert. Consuming frequent meals and snacks during the day containing carbohydrates as well will help refuel.

Fluids and Electrolytes to Rehydrate

Fluid and sweat loses can vary between individuals. You can monitor the colour of your urine to determine whether you are hydrated or not – it should be clear or a pale yellow. Weight lost during exercise is related to sweat loss, so for every 1kg lost, you need to drink 1-1.5 L of water. Having salty foods or having a sports drink can help to replace the sodium loses.

fluids

Protein for Muscle Growth and Repair

During exercise, muscle damage and breakdown occurs. To switch this process off (because it will continue even when you stop exercing) and start muscle repair and growth, consuming protein (especially complete sources of protein with the essential, branched chain amino acid leucine), is needed.

Micronutrients for Immune Function

The muscle damage during exercise leads to inflammation. You may have impaired immune function (and be more likely to get sick) if you continually skip recovery nutrition. Antioxidants from whole fruits and vegetables are good choices to include. Tart cherry juice may help with reducing muscle soreness. Compounds in turmeric and fresh ginger can also be helpful for minimizing inflammation. You could add ginger to a smoothie or use these in cooking during other parts of the day.

ginger

Fresh ginger

While fluids, carbohydrates, protein and antioxidants are important for everyone after exercise, what, when and how much to consume varies from person to person.

What determines when and how much?

The time until your next training session and how intensely you worked out

Athletes often train twice a day, so with a short period of time between workouts, a snack or meal ASAP post workout is needed so you begin the recovery process and help ensure you are refueled and repaired for your next workout. Your next meal may be soon after and should till contain the components listed above.

But if your next workout isn’t until the next day, or it was an easier workout and you have at least 24 hour to recover, you can get all the nutrients you need from your regular meals and snacks, given that they are well balanced. But, aim to have that next meal within 60-90 minutes.

Individual Factors

The number of grams of protein and carbohydrates to consume after a workout to recover adequately can be determined by a dietitian based on your body weight, intensity of the exercise, type of sport, level of conditioning, the environment, and your overall nutrition needs and goals.

While it may seem convenient to throw a packaged protein bar or scoop of whey protein into your gym bag for after your workout, whole foods are even better. Here are some balanced examples you can take with you.

Trail Mix – one that contains a variety of nuts and seeds (protein) and dried fruit and pretzels (carbohydrates, salt). Your best bet is to make your own using raw nuts to minimize the amount of fat.

Greek yogurt or cottage cheese and berries, cherries or pineapple – Add Greek yogurt or cottage to a Tupperware container and add frozen fruit. The frozen fruit will help to keep everything cold while you workout.

Whole Wheat pita bread and small can of tuna and side of raw veggies– You can make the wrap after your workout and no fridge is required.

Carton of chocolate milk and banana

Cheese Strings and Mandarin Oranges and crackers

Bagel or bread with peanut butter and banana

Cold pasta salad with chicken breast, chopped veggies and a vinaigrette

cold pasta salad

Drink plenty of water as well to rehydrate.

Tip: Chocolate milk and smoothies are great if you have little appetite post workout but need something ASAP

What’s the deal with chocolate milk?

Chocolate milk is part of a good recovery snack because it follows the recommended ratio of about 4:1 (carbohydrates: protein), contains simple sugars (quick absorbing carbs), is a fluid so it promotes rehydration as well, and contains electrolyes and many other vitamins and minerals.

Keep in mind:

Recovery doesn’t only happen right after a workout. What and when you eat during other meals and snacks, as well as getting enough sleep and adequate rest are other important factor in reaching your goals and recovering from exercise. To continue to improve, train hard and get stronger, don’t skip out on recovery!

Contact me to figure out what and how much to eat post workout (and the rest of the day) to help you meet your training, body composition and other health related goals.

Want to know what to eat before a workout? Check out: Pre-Exercise Nutrition Guide

Written by: Andrea Docherty, RD

Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist

Windsor, Ontario