Regular, prolonged exercise is one of the best ways that we can strengthen our bodies and boost our overall health – and the best part is that the benefits don’t stop working when we do!
Post-exercise is the time when your body is working its hardest. You’ve done the hard bit and you’re allowed to relax, but your body keeps working to continually strengthen and repair itself.
The importance of nutritional timing post-workout
What we eat, or don’t eat, immediately after exercise, can give us an added boost or an unfortunate set back. Exercise is great for our health but during exercise, we need to acquire energy to keep us going. In order to keep pushing through, our body looks to our muscles and taps into the glycogen that is stored within them. By doing this, it turns the glycogen into energy. This is a good thing, but when the glycogen stores run out our muscles will be left depleted of minerals and nutrients. It’s important to top these levels up again as soon as possible.
‘The magic window of recovery’ is a period that begins around 30 minutes after you finish exercising, during which you will get the most benefits from refuelling your body. (1) Nutrient timing has been the subject of many research studies and reviews, and it’s thought that consuming the proper ratio of nutrients during this window not only helps recovery but enhances body composition and increases future exercise performance. (2)
Carbohydrates – when, what and how much?
Carbohydrates help the body to synthesise muscle glycogen (energy) that will have been depleted during your workout. Glycogen replenishment happens in two phases – the first happens rapidly around 30-60 minutes after exercising and then reduces by as much as 60% afterwards. (3)
Sweet potato, oatmeal, pasta, bananas and even chocolate milk are all great options to replace glycogen. In terms of how much you should consume, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) says that as a guideline, around 1.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight, per hour is ideal. (4)
Protein – when, what and how much?
Protein helps to rebuild and repair muscle that will have been broken down during exercise. While the amount of muscle breakdown varies between people, even the fittest, most adept athlete will experience it and it’s only by consuming protein that your body receives the amino acids it needs to repair and build new muscle tissue.
Protein powders, eggs, meat or fish including salmon, chicken and tuna are all excellent options to top up your protein levels. You should be aiming to consume 0.3 – 0.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, as soon as possible after exercising. (5)
The longer you wait to replenish your body’s nutrients after exercise, the slower your recovery will be – waiting as long as two hours can actually slow down your recovery by 50%! Consuming a proper meal consisting of the all-important macronutrients is essential to improve your recovery and help your performance during your next workout.