The most under appreciated aspect of strength and conditioning in athletes is rest and recover, and specifically nutrition. Since recently making the transition to the high school level of athletics, I have noticed that many athletes aren’t aware of how nutrition can help them become stronger and recover for their next workout. My goal with this post is to educate how nutrition can help you raise your game to the next level, and specifically post-workout nutrition.
After a workout or practice, the body has been depleted and weakened. For muscle and strength gains to occur the body must be overloaded to create this weakened and depleted state. After a bout of exercise, the body is rebuilding itself and the overloaded tissues. The great part about the human body is that it not only rebuilds itself back to the preworkout level, but it makes adaptations to the body (muscular, cardiovascular, hormonal, etc.) to make the work that you just completed easier. These processes can last from 24-48 hours after the workout. The body cannot complete these processes without the nutrients we receive through the food we eat. Carbohydrates and proteins are the two most researched macronutrients for performance and recovery. Proteins provide the body with the building blocks of the body. Carbohydrates are essential in replenishing muscle glycogen, or the energy muscles use during exercise.
Recommendations for Post-workout Recovery
As I stated the body is recovering after a workout for up to 24-48 hours, but there is an important window of time after the workout where the body is more “open” to recovery nutrition. It has been recommended that 1-1.2 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight be consumed within the first hour of finishing the workout. Depending on the intensity or duration during workouts, 7-12 g of carbs per kg of body weight may need to be consumed per day by serious athletes. This will insure that the body has sufficient glycogen stores for the next workout. The quality of carbohydrate can also be important but an easy way to think of it is, which is healthier? A piece of fruit compared to a snickers bar? The quick instant sugar in candy may eventually lead to a crash in energy levels later.
To help repair the damage that the workout created, protein is essential in the repair process. After a high-intensity workout or prolonged workout, the body slowly moves from a catabolic(breakdown) state to a more anabolic (building) state. Again, like carbohydrates, it is recommended that protein be ingested within the first hour of a completed workout. During this time is when protein helps increase the rate of protein rebuilding. Protein rebuilding still occurs outside of this one hour window of opportunity, but the rate is much slower. Many athletes will benefit from 15-25 g of protein during this one hour post-workout window. There is no need to go above 30 grams of protein because then it becomes waste. This is especially important when you consider the current cost of many protein supplements, you would basically be flushing much of this down the toilet, or your body then turning it into fat stores. It has also been shown that adding carbohydrates to the post-workout protein can further help limit the muscle breakdown and therefore leading to greater adaptation to training. Many protein powders provide sufficient protein during this post-workout window but do not provide the sufficient carbohydrates to replenish glycogen levels. Blending a piece of fruit into the protein shake can help add the needed carbohydrates to your post-workout shake. Many “protein” bars have the protein and carbohydrates you need post-workout. Chocolate milk has also been shown to be effective in recovery, especially in endurance athletes.
Have there been any go-to snacks or shakes that you use for recovery? What have you seen personally that worked best for you? (protein alone vs. protein with carbohydrates, etc.)
Also, if you have any recommendations or thoughts on how to make this blog better please feel free to let me know.