Endurance athletes such as runners, cyclists, swimmers and multisport athletes all like to push their bodies to the limit. How well you recover from a single workout or a full week determines the amount of quality training you can do. And, quality training is what athletes need to reach peak performance for races.
When executed properly, recover gives you the power needed to compete, makes breathing easy and pushing hard feels effortless. However without proper recovery, you risk fatigue and injury. The one recovery practice that is key to training, performance and recovery is nutrition. While there are several recovery techniques that can be used to complement your diet, if you are not getting the right nutrition, the additional recovery tools will have less and, in some cases, minimal advantage.
If you’re training two to three times per week, following a normal daily nutrition plan with no special additions may be sufficient for optimal recovery before the next training session. However, if you are training five to seven days per week or more often, refueling for the next workout is crucial. Refueling properly after workouts will restore muscle and liver glycogen stores, replace fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat, promote muscle repair and bolster the immune system. You will perform better in your next training session and accumulate more high quality sessions than athletes skipping post-exercise recovery fueling.
When it comes to recovery through nutrition, there are two fueling windows to be aware of. The first is within 30 minutes of a hard or long training session. The second is in the two to three hours post-exercise.
30 Minute Post-Exercise
Fluid, electrolytes, carbohydrates and protein that provides necessary amino acids are the foundation of proper recovery nutrition. Immediately upon finishing a workout, start replacing fluid with water or a combination of water and 16 ounces your favorite sports drink. You can estimate fluid losses by weighing yourself before and after training and drinking 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every one-pound lost.
The anabolic window is 30 to 60 minutes post-workout. Therefore, it is recommended to consume protein within the first 30-minutes post-exercise and within 15 minutes of an intense workout. If you’re like me, eating is not the first thing you think of immediately after a hard run or workout. I typically will grab chocolate coconut water to start the refueling process before hitting the showers. This kick-starts hydration, as well as provides the amino acids needed to recover.
Additionally, experts suggest to restore muscle glycogen and promote protein synthesis, consume 0.8g per kg of body weight of carbohydrate and 0.2g per kg of body weight of protein. For a 150 pound person this is about 54g of carbohydrates and about 14g of protein. Or, more simply put, some pretzels and hummus. Carbohydrates, in combination with protein, increase the production of insulin, a hormone that is necessary for optimal uptake of the amino acids from protein.
Two to Three Hours Post-Exercise
To continue your recovery nutrition effectively, consume a meal of whole foods two to three hours post-exercise. This meal should contain a combination of carbohydrate, approximately 20g of protein and some fat. A 20g feeding of protein is ideal to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. I also focus on anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, and brain foods – tomatoes, leafy veggies, fish, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and mushrooms. It is not the time to say, “I earned two donuts, or a box of pizza.” Your cheat meal can come later. Yes, cheat meals are necessary as long as you’re disciplined, but that is for another post.
With both the 30 minute window and two to three hours after window, the key is to get the hydration and amino acids from protein to refuel your body and have you prepared for your next training session. While, you can use supplements to get the protein and amino acids you need, I’m from the school of why supplement if you can get it naturally from whole foods. The more whole and nutritious foods you put in your body the better you can recover.