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Fueling series part #3: Recovery fueling after a workout

This is the final post in a series of three focusing on how to fuel around a workout. Now that we’ve taken a look at how to fuel before and during, it’s time to tackle how you recover.

One of the most frequently asked questions regarding recovery fueling is timing: is it really necessary to have something within 30-60 minutes? For an endurance athlete in-season the answer is a resounding “yes”!


If you are in the off-season or have yet to ramp up your training, there is flexibility in this recovery window. Mostly because your body has a longer period (24 hours or more) in which to recover, repair and/or build muscle, and replace glycogen (ie stored carbs). Additionally, daily moderate workouts of 60 minutes or less are unlikely to place a major dent in those stored carbohydrates or create a marked increase in inflammation.


But once workouts are 90 minutes or more on a routine basis and you throw in multiple workouts in a day, the need to recover quickly becomes more important. Post-workout, a complex increase in insulin sensitivity and other transporters primes your body to replace glycogen stores; this also enhances amino acid uptake (from proteins) into the muscle. So in short, why not take advantage of the opportunity.


Recovery Intake


There are some key nutrients to focus on post-workout to maximize recovery. The mimosas at Sunday brunch may seem like the ideal way to relax after a tough weekend workout, but unfortunately they don’t fit the profile. Here is a list of your targets:


1) Carbohydrates. If you haven’t already picked up on this, you use carbohydrates during intense and endurance activities – which can lead to depleted stores thus needing replenished. An intake of roughly 1g/kg bodyweight immediately post-workout is suggested. That’s roughly 70 grams of carbohydrate for a 150lb athlete.

 Examples of 70 grams of carbohydrate: 1 bagel + banana, 16oz sports drink + granola bar, 1 large baked potato


2) Protein. Yes, endurance athletes need to build muscle, too. And repair the repetitive damage from workouts. The commonly suggested ratio of 4:1 to 3:1 for carbohydrate to protein intake still stands. Bolstering this concept is our knowledge that a minimum of 15 grams protein should be consumed to promote muscle building, while much more than 40 grams of protein in a sitting isn’t recommended (for the purposes of muscle building at least). So for our example 150lb athlete consuming about 70 grams of carbohydrate, this indicates a protein intake of 15-20 grams is appropriate.


 Examples of 15-20 grams of protein: 1 package turkey jerky, 16 oz chocolate milk, 1 cup beans

To really up your recovery include the amino acid leucine in your recovery. Leucine is a branched chain amino acid (BCAA) readily found in animal proteins and has been identified as an important trigger in the muscle protein synthesis process. An intake of 2.5-3 grams post-workout has been shown effective. One of the highest sources is whey (contained in dairy products), and an intake of roughly 25 grams of whey protein meets this leucine goal.


3) Fluids. If you did a good job hydrating during the workout, your work here will be minimal. What’s a good job? Most studies indicate a fluid loss of more than 2% in body weight (that’s 3lbs for our 150lb athlete) are linked with decreases in performance. Weigh yourself pre- and post-workout. For every pound lost aim to consume 20-24oz fluids over the next couple of hours.


4) Electrolytes. While most think of sports drinks for electrolyte replacement, you can certainly do it with foods, too. An 8oz glass of chocolate milk has 140mg of sodium, while 8oz of a typical sports drink has 110mg. Salty sweaters should include things like pretzels and soups to replenish lost sodium.

Here are a few recovery examples for a 150lb athlete:


8oz chocolate milk + ½ peanut butter & jelly on whole wheat

Whey protein shake + banana + almond milk (provides more carbohydrates)

Turkey sandwich on whole wheat + apple

1 cup Greek yogurt + ¼ cup granola + handful berries


TIPS

  • Fluids, carbohydrates, and electrolytes all work together for digestion and absorption. Removing one piece from the puzzle will ultimately leave a gap in recovery.

  • Avoid high fat options since fat slows digestion and can delay the recovery.

  • If post-workout you won’t have immediate access to a kitchen, restaurant, or store, be certain to pack a recovery meal (invest in a small cooler to expand your options).

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