Many aspects of sports nutrition fascinate me, simply because what you are putting into your body before, during, and after a workout can often dictate how successful the workout ultimately can be. What I mean by that is if you’re properly fueled and hydrated going into a workout, you will put yourself in a situation where your body is primed and ready to tackle the exercise demands. Recovery, and the role(s) nutrition can play is an area I spent some time researching, both at the clinical level and working with individual athletes and teams. And to this day, I truly believe recovery nutrition is the most important factor in nutrition and exercise performance.
Why is recovery nutrition so important? Well, if you’re not recovering (via drinking and eating), you are not re-fueling, and re-building muscles. That in turn will result in fatigue and muscle soreness. How tired and sore your muscles are the day after the workout, will dictate your effort level throughout the day even if it’s a cross training or recovery day. Not to mention, neglecting macronutrients (carbs, fats, protein) 20-30 minutes after the run, can lead to wasted efforts. Meaning, if you don’t allow your body to recovery from the efforts by simply re-fueling, re-building, and re-hydrating, the physiological benefits you can achieve by the effort in the workout, go down the drain.
Through experimentation, and utilizing evidence-based research, I’ve realized the ideal recovery (plan/strategy) revolves around four steps. These four steps follow the fundamental principle(s) of re-build, re-fuel, and re-hydrate.
Step 1: Prime
Take in: 4-6 ounces of a carbohydrate-based drink – Ie; sport drink, 100% fruit juice
This step is crucial, to begin the recovery process. When exercising at moderate-to-high intensity, our body’s use glycogen (stored carbohydrates) as fuel during the workout. Towards the end of a workout, your glycogen stores tend to be depleted, what consuming a carb-based drink does is that it will spike your blood sugar (temporarily) by releasing insulin and open up valves that will allow your muscles to re-fuel external nutrients. In addition to helping prime the body for protein, carbohydrate intake after pro-longed activity can help decreases disturbances to your immune system. During exercise, your immune system is compromised; consuming nutrients to help maintain a healthy immune system will go a long way in recovery and overall health.
Step 2: Re-build
Take in: 12-16 fl oz of fast (liquid) protein, aim for 20-25 g of protein – Ie; protein shake, chocolate milk
After step 1, your body is now primed and ready to take in protein at a more efficient rate. Consuming fast (liquid) protein will help begin the process of re-building your muscles. During exercise, you are not making your muscles bigger or stronger. What’s occurring is your muscle fibers and (muscle) protein are constantly being broken down. Your body builds muscle during the recovery process, with protein plays a key role in repairing and re-building muscle fibers.
Step 3: Re-fuel
Take in: consume at least 75 g of carbohydrates through a meal within the next hour.
After completing steps 1 & 2, you now have given your body a window of about an hour before you need to consume additional nutrients to continue the recovery process. Consuming a meal rich in carbohydrates will help your body re-fuel and build back the energy you’ll need for the subsequent workouts.
Step 4: Re-hydrate
Take in: consume fluids + electrolytes throughout the day – Ie; drinks with electrolytes: sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium,
Rehydrating is the final step in the process, and should be continued and practiced throughout the day. This will allow your body to replenish fluids and electrolytes lost during exercise via sweat. Staying properly hydrated is the easiest way to ensure your body has what it needs to meet exercise demands.