Post-workout or recovery nutrition? The terms have been somewhat interchangeable among athletes and there is a distinct difference which is important to know.
Recovery nutrition, often thought of as the “window of opportunity” in the first 30-60 minutes following a workout includes everything but this time period. “Recovery nutrition begins before a training session starts”. Think about that and it will make complete sense. The goal is to be well-hydrated and nourished before a training session in order to maximize the training session quality. It will be extremely difficult to maintain a certain power output, pace or heart rate if the body is not properly fueled beforehand. Thus, recovery nutrition is actually comprised of your daily nutrition along with the before and during training session nutrition. Remember again, “recovery nutrition begins before a training session starts”.
Enter the term post-workout nutrition, which is a much more accurate description of recovering nutritionally following a tough training session. There are a number of nutrition tips that will maximize your ability to completely replenish the carbohydrates that you use during your workout which I will list shortly. First, it is important to understand that, coupled with proper recovery nutrition as I described above, a well-executed post-workout nutrition plan can fully replenish glycogen stores in 12-16 hours. While this may seem long, not going into a workout with a full “gas tank” (fluid and carbohydrate) and not implementing the following post-workout nutrition guidelines will push your recovery time to up to 24 hours! I haven’t met an athlete yet who would choose the latter option.
Thus, the following post-workout nutrition principles should be followed in addition to a good recovery nutrition plan:
Carbohydrate 50-100 grams of carbs is sufficient for most athletes. Choose higher glycemic sugars such as glucose (aka-dextrose) to speed absorption. In addition, liquids can be quicker to absorb than solids. If time is of the essence, have a recovery drink.
Protein Consume between 10-20 grams of protein. Single, essential amino acids, especially branched chain amino acids and glutamine, versus whole proteins such as whey, casein or soy are quicker to absorb and should be your top choice.
Fluid This is the tricky one. It is recommended to drink 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of weight that you lost during your workout. For some athletes, this could add up quickly and it is unrealistic to drink more than 48 ounces after a workout. Thus, it is extremely important to minimize your fluid loss as much as possible by focusing on good nutrition during your workout.
Sodium Sodium is an extremely beneficial mineral to include in your post-workout nutrition plan. Whether it is in a sports drink or in food such as pretzels or crackers, aim for at least 500 milligrams (this is on the low end and can be increased quite a bit depending on how much you sweat and how salty your sweat is).
Fat Forget about it within the “window of opportunity”. While it may be beneficial to replenish some of your intramuscular triglycerides that may have been used in the workout, the research is still inconclusive as if this is really needed and beneficial.
Note: the 30-60 minute “window of opportunity” is valid; however, I use the 10-15 minute window with athletes to ensure that the nutrients are consumed within the hour of completing the training session. Let’s face it, life happens and sometimes things come up that will take your focus off your post-workout nutrition (ie: family, showers, playing with the dog, posting on facebook :), etc.) so it is best to utilize these tips sooner than later.