Nutrition for Recovery?
By Nancy Brinch, MS, RD, LSW
a hard workout or a strenuous competition an athlete must replace
fluids as well as muscle and liver glycogen that were lost during
exercise. Just as proper nutrition before exercise improves performance,
carefully choosing foods and fluids after exercise can speed recovery
for the next workout. This is especially important for 1) anyone
participating in heavy daily training, 2) athletes who do two
or more workouts daily, and 3) those involved in competitions
with multiple events.
Why is eating properly after exercise so important?
Hormonal and enzymatic changes that enhance glucose uptake
by muscle and liver cells are elevated immediately after exercise.
With optimal carbohydrate intake glycogen stores are replenished
at 5 - 7% an hour. It can take up to 15 to 20 hours to completely
restore depleted stores. Eating to replace these stores is necessary
for optimal performance in a subsequent event.
Begin consuming carbohydrate-rich foods and beverages within
15 minutes after a workout when the enzymes necessary for the
production of glycogen are most active.
Aim for a consumption of 0.5 gram of carbohydrate for every
pound of body weight every two hours for six to eight hours. For
example, a person who weighs 150 pounds should consume 75 grams
of carbohydrate every two hours for six to eight hours after exercise:
150 pounds X 0.5 grams carbohydrate/pound = 75 grams carbohydrate
This person should consume 75 grams of carbohydrate (300 calories
from carbohydrate) in the first two hours post exercise. Two hours
later this person should eat another 75 grams of carbohydrate.
3 - 5 grams of carbohydrate per pound should be consumed
over a 24-hour period after strenuous exercise.
strategy is not difficult to follow because your body will want
this amount of carbohydrate - and perhaps more. If you have been
exercising strenuously you will be very hungry. Consuming more
than this amount is fine if your body needs the calories, but
consuming more than this amount of carbohydrate will not speed
up the recovery process.
What kinds of carbohydrates are best?
Both liquid and solid sources of carbohydrate will replenish glycogen
stores equally well. Carbohydrate sources with a high glycemic
index are able to raise blood glucose levels quickly, thereby
replenishing glycogen stores faster. These are foods that can
be digested quickly, thus raising blood glucose levels rapidly.
(See the December, 2002 issue of the Sports Nutrition Newsletter,
"Carbohydrates Fuel Performance.")
High glycemic index carbohydrates include most breads, bagels,
many cereals (i.e. cornflakes, raisin bran), crackers, white potatoes,
rice, fruit juice, bananas, and sports drinks.
What about protein?
Many studies have been conducted to determine whether eating protein
along with carbohydrate will enhance glycogen storage. Some studies
show a benefit, but others do not. Consuming protein along with
carbohydrate does not impair glycogen storage. This combination
might enhance glycogen synthesis because protein stimulates the
action of insulin, just as carbohydrates do. Insulin is a hormone
that transports glucose from the blood into muscles. Protein does
provide essential amino acids that are necessary for muscle repair.
Athletes must consume adequate protein (see January, 2003 issue
of the Sports Nutrition Newsletter, "Protein: Power or Propaganda?"),
so it should be included in recovery meals, and it can be included
in recovery snacks.
Examples of recovery snacks:
These snacks each provide 80 grams of carbohydrate:
8-ounce fruit yogurt, 1 granola bar, and 16 ounces sports
1 cup of raisin bran, 8 ounces of milk and 1 banana
Bagel and 16 ounces of orange juice
Clif bar and 8 ounces of fruit juice
Replenishing fluids after exercise is a top dietary priority.
You can determine how much fluid you lose during exercise by weighing
yourself before and after a workout. One pound of sweat loss represents
a loss of 16 ounces of body fluid. You should drink 16 ounces
of fluid for every pound of weight you lose during exercise. You
can replace this fluid by drinking water, juices, sports drinks
and eating watery foods like watermelon, grapes, yogurt and soups.
Remember you also lose electrolytes such as sodium and potassium,
so a mixture of water and sports drinks to rehydrate will replace
electrolytes as well as fluid. Lack of potassium and sodium in
the body can cause cramping.
An optimal recovery diet is important for the athlete striving
to reach peak performance levels. Planning ahead to be sure the
appropriate foods and beverages are available after a workout
or competition can make it easier to consume the carbohydrate
necessary to replace spent glycogen stores.