If you start to think about what your body has endured during your workouts then you can begin to understand what you need post exercise.
Your body stores carbohydrates as glycogen in your muscles and liver. It is these stores of glycogen that your body uses as energy during exercise. Whilst it is not the only source of energy, glycogen is the primary source of fuel when performing continuous bouts of exercises e.g. running. As your energy stores become more depleted during exercises then so does your ability to sustain your performance levels, hence the need to consider fuelling on the go when you are training for durations of more than 90 minutes (a blog for another day).
At the end of a hard training session then your glycogen levels will be low and to top them up your body needs carbohydrates. Sometimes referred to as “carb reloading” this is the optimum time for you to replenish those stores. If you plan to train again within a 12 hour period this is even more significant and I would recommend that you refuel within 30 minutes of training. This will ensure there is adequate time for those carbs to be fully digested and stored in your muscles & liver. If your next session is at least 12-24 hours away then you can wait up to 2 hours to reload and be ready for your next session.
The recommended levels of carbohydrate replenishment after high intensity or long duration activity is 1 to 1.2grams of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight. So for a 90kg guy like me that would be 90 to 110 grams of carbs. For reference 1 small piece of fruit or a slice of bread is 15grams of carbs, a jacket potato approx 50grams.
We then need to think about helping your muscles repair and adapt following your training, this is through a process called muscle protein synthesis. This is where protein plays a part in your post exercise nutrition. It is the protein and in particular, the amino acids within protein (such as leucine) that your body needs for muscle synthesis.
This is the process of repairing the micro level tears caused to the muscles during exercise. Importantly though the body doesn’t just repair them to how they were, it adapts and strengthens the fibres to ensure they can withstand the same level of forces in the future without sustaining damage.
The refueling “window” for the consumption of protein is up to 2 hours post exercise. If you miss this window and don’t consume any protein for 3/4/5 hours after exercise then you will slow the repairing process and reduce the size of adaptations achieved. For protein and using the same method as we did for carbs, you should consume 0.25-0.4grams per kilogram of bodyweight, so for me 23 to 36 grams of protein. Again for reference, this could be a couple of boiled eggs 26 grams, a tin of tuna 25 grams, high protein yoghurt pot 20g, or a protein shake.
The final piece of the jigsaw is rehydration (and hydration during exercise). For every 1kg (2lbs) of body weight loss during exercise you should consume 1250-1500ml of fluid, ideally including sodium to help fluid retention e.g. sports drink, electrolytes, etc if you’re exercising for over an hour. Anything under an hour and you should be fine with water.
Lots of food for thought here (see what I did there!).
Mark Wilson ASCC
NB. The figures above are what various studies have found to be the optimal ranges for carbohydrate and protein recovery, but please don’t get too hung up on being 100% precise. If you have 30grams of protein instead of 36grams you won’t waste your hard work. It’s more important to think about the quality of the food source and making sure you are eating within that “reloading” window.
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