Updated: Nov 26
By Robert Gray
You fueled for performance before your training session and you crushed it! You executed the workout correctly, achieved the appropriate stimulus, and now you want to make sure you maximize the benefits of your training by recovering to the best of your ability. Nutrition is a key component of optimal recovery, and in the subsequent adaptation from training/recovery. What and when you should eat, or “refuel", after training depends on the length and intensity of exercise and when the next workout will be.
Protein is a nonnegotiable nutrient for post exercise muscle recovery. After training, both muscle protein synthesis (the process that results in muscle building) and muscle protein breakdown (the process that results in muscle loss) are elevated in a fasted state (no food), leading to a negative protein balance and resulting in muscle loss. Refueling post-exercise can augment this training response by increasing muscle protein synthesis and lead to a positive protein balance within the body. The end result of which would be muscle growth. The protein we eat is made up of building blocks called amino acids. These amino acids are broken up into two groups, essential and non-essential. Essential amino acids must come from the food we eat (or drink), where non-essential amino acids are created inside our body and do not need to be ingested as part of our diet. Foods that contain all of the essential amino acids are considered complete proteins. Eating complete protein sources is a necessity for the greatest positive influence on protein synthesis. Some examples of complete proteins are beef, poultry, fish, dairy, soy, whey/casein protein powder, and grains/nuts/seeds paired with legumes (peanut butter on whole grain bread or brown rice with black beans).
Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are the three macronutrients found in our food. Of the three, carbohydrates are the most effective and efficient fuel source (stored as glycogen in our muscles an liver, as glucose in our bloodstream) for our muscles/body during moderate and intense exercise. As a result of training, our body depletes it's glycogen stores and our blood glucose levels decrease. After exercising, it is imperative to get enough carbohydrates to replenish stores of muscle and liver glycogen to be used in the next exercise session. Failing to consistently get enough carbohydrates after exercise will prevent muscle glycogen from normalizing on a daily basis and performance/desire to train will suffer. A target of 1.2g carbohydrates per 1 kilogram of bodyweight every hour after training for 3-4 hours is a great way to make sure you are replenishing your glycogen levels for your next training session. For example, Julian is a member of Victory Performance who weights 154 pounds (70 kilograms). After a 1 hour class his carbohydrate needs are 84 grams (70 kg x 1.2 grams of carbohydrates = 84 grams of carbohydrates) to be consumed within 30 minutes of the end of class, and then again every hour for 2-3 hours. The timing of refueling post-exercise is important because there is a window where our cells are more sensitive to insulin, which transports glucose into the cell where it is stored as glycogen. Eating in this window can make your replenishing/recovery efforts more efficient and effective. Additionally, many fruits contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which could play a role in recovery and decreasing muscle soreness from training.
Both protein and carbohydrates play their own role in post-exercise recovery. When paired together as part of a post-exercise meal protein and carbohydrates enhance protein and carbohydrate intake into the muscle cells, promote increased protein synthesis, and enhancing the recovery process. We recommend eating protein at a 1:4 ratio to carbohydrates. This has shown to decrease muscle soreness. Earlier, we found out that Julian, our members at VPSC, needs to eat 84 grams of carbohydrates after exercise to adequately replenish his glycogen stores. Using our 1:4 protein to carbohydrate ration, Julian should eat 21 grams of protein immediately after exercise. Eating protein beyond the 1:4 protein to carbohydrate ratio can increase protein synthesis and potentially create an anabolic environment within your body.
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