POST WORKOUT NUTRITION- EATING TO RECOVER
For years it is known that the most important meal of the day is believed to be breakfast, but for professional athletes who put in all the effort in their training, their post-workout nutrition just may be more important than any other meal. In fact, an athletes post-workout meal is one of the most important meals they can have all day.
For athletes like Professional boxers, for example, after a hard workout, can use up all their stored glycogen, easily sweat out two litres of water, and break down both muscle and red blood cells. This is why what an athlete consumes in the minutes and hours after their training or competition is essential to both performance and recovery.
Recovery is a challenge for athletes who are undertaking two or more sessions each day. Between each work-out, the body needs to adapt to the physiological stress. In the training situation, with correct planning of the workload and the recovery time, adaptation allows the body to become fitter, stronger and faster.
According to the Webster dictionary, recovery is defined as “the act of regaining or returning toward a normal or healthy state.” A proactive recovery means providing the body with all the nutrients it needs, in a speedy and practical manner, to optimise the desired processes following each session, to essentially become ‘fitter, stronger, faster’
let’s take a look at the processes needed for recovery;
• Replenish the muscle and liver glycogen stores
• Consume protein to assist with muscle repair
• Restore fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat
• Support the immune system to handle the damage
Research has found that in the approximately 30 minutes after intense exercise the body’s cells are most receptive to replenishment, particularly glycogen stores. This is a critical time for athletes and the clock starts ticking because the body instigates muscle protein synthesis for muscle tissue recovery and repair, replenishes fluids and electrolytes lost through sweat, and adapts to the stresses encountered in the workout.
Recovery nutrition can be broken into two parts – part one occurs within thirty minutes of the workout and part two occurs one to two hours after exercise.
Replenishing the Body’s Glycogen Stores
Ingesting carbohydrates after training is critical in replenishing glycogen stores and initiating muscle glycogen synthesis. If we don’t replenish these stores, an athlete’s training performance can be hampered in future sessions.
It is recommended that 1.2g per kilogram of bodyweight of carbohydrates be consumed post exercise. Sometimes it is not practical for an athlete to consume such a large quantity of carbohydrates straight after exercise, as they may have difficulties tolerating food or drink. There is a way to combat this, though. Research in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism has shown that ingesting protein (0.2-0.4g/kg) and a smaller amount of carbohydrates together (around 0.8g/kg) can result in a similar effect, stimulating an endogenous insulin release that actually replenishes glycogen stores at a similar rate as ingesting 1.2g/kg of bodyweight of carbohydrates does.
Building and Repairing Muscle
Muscle protein is broken down due to high intensity or prolonged exercise. This makes recovery nutrition important in helping to rebuild. Once the recovery phase begins the catabolic processes reduce while anabolic processes increase and continue on for at least 24 hours after training. The ingestion of essential amino acids from quality protein sources has been shown to help with the muscle-building process. Even though research continues into the type, amount, and timing of protein consumption to obtain the maximum results, most agree that athletes who do either endurance or resistance type training will get the desired benefit by consuming 20-30g of high quality protein within the first hour post exercise.
Rehydrating the Body
Most athletes will finish a competition or training session in some kind of fluid deficit. If this deficit is not corrected it can have a significant impact on future training sessions. In order to rectify this deficit an athlete should aim to consume 125-150% of the estimated fluid lost over a four to six hour period post exercise.
Including sodium into recovery fluid can assist in replacing the electrolytes lost through excessive sweating. Rather than just losing the fluid through excessive urination, the addition of electrolytes can help the body retain the water consumed. In order to rehydrate effectively, 50-80mmol of sodium should be added. This can be achieved by adding extra electrolytes to commercial sports drinks or consuming fluids created with this ratio. Another alternative is consuming foods that contain sodium along with recovery fluids to achieve this required amount.
Supporting the Immune System
Intensive training can suppress the immune system. This suppression occurs while training is in progress and can continue to affect the efficiency of the immune system for hours afterward. This is obviously a concern for athletes as these hours of decreased immune function could allow an athlete to pick up an infection. Vitamins C and E, zinc, glutamine, and probiotics have all been touted to aid in the protection and support of the immune system. None have been proven to provide a bulletproof defence. There has been research, though, stating that if adequate glycogen stores are maintained pre and post exercise that this can reduce the disturbance of immune system markers as the consumption of carbohydrates can help reduce the bodies stress hormone response to exercise.
Using Supplements or Whole Foods to Meet Your Goals
These days there is a supplement for everything and for some athletes this means that they can get lazy and become totally reliant on sports supplements to meet their recovery goals. Unfortunately this can mean that some athletes end up doubling up on specific nutrients. While inherently this not a bad thing, some minerals taken in excess can cause toxic symptoms, so an athlete needs to be aware of what is in his or her supplements.
Athletes are generally advised to obtain real food options to aid in recovery unless constrained for time. This is because it also allows an athlete to meet the daily nutritional needs of essential vitamins and minerals, and also stock up on much needed antioxidants like vitamins C and E that help reduce oxidization caused from the stress of exercise.
Practical considerations of recovery nutrition also need to be taken into account. Issues like a lack of appetite, unavailability of food, and being unprepared can all play a part in an athlete failing to meet recovery goals. With a little planning these challenges can be nothing more than bumps in the road. Once an athlete notices the benefits, these bumps should be even further minimised, making for a consistent and competitive athlete through something as simple as eating the right foods at the right time.
Sources: Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2013 | breakingmuscle.com | http://www.ausport.gov.au/