Nutrition is a key component in athletic performance, but too often is the most overlooked. Many people live by the belief of "I workout, so I can eat what I want." Sports nutrition should follow the philosophy of "what should I eat to fuel my body for optimal performance and recovery", versus, "I workout so can eat whatever I want." Nutrition research is now showing that when you eat can be as significant as what you eat.
Post-exercise nutrition is just as important as pre- exercise nutrition and the key to help the body and muscles heal and recover. The purpose of the post exercise meal is to replace muscle glycogen stores and refuel the body for the next workout. It should provide energy and nutrients to repair and strengthen muscle tissues damaged during a workout and provide fluids to re-hydrate the body.
The post exercise meal should be consumed soon after exercise, preferably within thirty minutes to one hour, in order to refuel the body as soon as possible and begin the recovery process. Our bodies are most receptive to replenishing glycogen stores and repairing muscles during the immediate time period after exercise. Focus on consuming foods high in carbohydrate and moderate in protein and replacing the fluids and electrolytes lost through sweat. Research has shown that adding protein along with carbohydrate post-exercise enhances recovery better than carbohydrate or protein alone.
Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are used by the body for building and repairing muscles and body tissue, assist in hormones and enzyme production, and help maintain fluid and electrolyte balance.
In general, an athlete that exercises hard for 90 minutes or more per day should consume 1 - 1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight along with small amounts of protein within the hour after exercise and continue with small nutrient dense meals throughout the day. This will give the body the metabolic jumpstart on the recovery process.
So now the question is, "Should I grab a post workout recovery drink or rush home to and fix a meal?" High quality whole foods should be the foundation of every athletes diet. However, consuming specially formulated recovery drinks post exercise can be of benefit too. After a tough workout, our bodies are starving for nutrients to be replenished. The main thing to consider when choosing post workout nutrition, is the time frame in which you should re-fuel post exercise for optimal recovery.
There are several advantages of specially formulated recovery drinks for post workout nutrition. They are typically easy to prepare and consume after exercise, when your energy is low and your appetite may be suppressed. They are very convenient if you're not headed home after a workout to cook a nutrient rich meal. In addition, liquid carbohydrates and protein enter the blood stream and reach your muscles faster than a meal composed of whole foods, which then have to be broken down and digested. Recovery drinks will also help to re-hydrate the body further aiding in the recovery process. By reading the nutrition label and selecting a product with the proper ratio of carbohydrates and protein, that is free of processed additives and artificial ingredients, you can find a quick, convenient way to begin the recovery process.
Some of the best nutrients for recovery come from whole, unprocessed foods. A recovery meal made from a variety of slow burning carbohydrates, such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and high-quality proteins full of essential amino acids, will maximize nutrient absorption and recovery. Whole foods also help athletes meet the daily nutritional needs of essential vitamins and minerals. Many fruits, vegetables and nuts are full of antioxidants like vitamins C and E that help reduce oxidization caused from the stress of exercise.
So, after a workout, if you're not able to consume a meal made from whole foods, a recovery drink is a great way to jumpstart your recovery. Having a good nutrient rich, whole foods meal a few hours later will further enhance nutrient absorption and optimize muscle glycogen stores. Following these post workout principals will maximize your recovery and provide your body with optimal nutrition for endurance in life!