Anyone taking part in physical activity is more than likely familiar with the importance that nutrition has on recovery and performance. Whether or not it is being optimised after training and between sessions is another question though and many people often fall short on getting their post workout nutrition right.
As well as this, the nutrition between sessions and on rest days is just as important, but is often undervalued. Without adequate refuelling between training sessions, the capacity to maintain daily training intensities and volumes may in fact be impaired. It may not be a problem in the short term but if this is carried out over time then it could lead to fatigue, over-training, illness, burn-out or even injury.
From a nutritional perspective, recovery takes on three main goals which are often referred to as the 3 R’s and include the following:
- Repair – referring to protein intake
- Replenish – referring to carbohydrate intake
- Rehydrate – referring to fluid / electrolyte intake
Most applied nutritionists recommend that recovery should take place immediately after training (within the first hour), as this is when the muscles are more receptive to taking in the nutrients. Certain enzymes and transporters are more active and therefore, the muscles act very much in the same way as a sponge – drawing in the nutrients.
Although it has recently come to light that there may not be much of a difference between delaying recovery and starting it immediately after, we are talking about optimisation here. With this in mind, my general advice would be that in order to maximise recovery make sure you’re getting the right nutrients on board pretty much straight after your training. Whether this is in the 1 hour ‘window of opportunity’ or a couple of hours after won’t be the end of the world, but if you have access to the right foods or even a supplement after your training then get it in straight away to begin the process of recovery.
Applying the Three R’s.
As mentioned, there are three key points to consider when talking about nutritional recovery and I will explain how each of these can be applied below:
It is high quality and rapidly digesting protein that contain all the building blocks to promote muscle repair, reconditioning and reduce the muscle soreness that is often experienced after training. An example of this would be whey protein (such as Pure Whey Protein™), as this contains a good amount of the key amino acid, Leucine which makes it more superior to many other sources as well as it having a full amino acid profile which mirrors that of skeletal muscle. It is also digested and absorbed a lot faster than many other proteins such as Soya or Casein.
Where the focus so far has been on post workout recovery, it is also important to remember that recovery also takes place in the subsequent hours and days after training as well. For this reason, a typical person’s diet should include regular high protein meals across the days between training. This should be from lean meat, fish, dairy and perhaps the addition of one or two supplements (such as whey or casein).
For a typical person looking to maintain a low body fat they should be aiming for around 1.5-2g per kg body weight, or 20-30g every 2-3 hours per day. Protein intake (~20g) either side of training is also important to allow for a positive protein balance.
Most people looking to maintain low body fat typically consume a diet low in carbohydrates, or tend to consume lower GI (Glycemic Index) carbs throughout the day. This is great in terms of body composition but becomes a challenge when looking for optimal recovery.
Post workout carbohydrate intake can increase protein synthesis through an insulin mediated response as well as replenishing depleted muscle glycogen stores, which is particularly important for those competing in a sport that requires high intensity exercise. High levels of blood glucose also results in a reduction in the hormone, glucagon, and so prevents the breakdown of muscle protein (glucagon stimulates protein breakdown in muscle).
The best way to replenish the muscle would be to consume fast releasing carbohydrates (such as Maltodextrin or Vitargo®) after your training. 1g per kg of body weight per hour is recommended for three hours following an intense workout. This can come in the form of energy drinks, gels, powders or food, but convenience will usually take the main priority here. It is also important to note that this may be altered depending on your various goals i.e. if the goal is to reduce body fat levels. If this is the case rather than maximal performance then carbohydrate intake should be reduced to increase subsequent fat utilisation.
This is an area which is often overlooked and is particularly important for higher-intensity sessions and longer endurance based sessions, or if the person has been training in hot temperatures and sweat rate has been increased. Where it is always a good idea to consume fluids during your training, post workout hydration is also fundamental. Dehydration of >2% body mass deficit will result in reduced cognitive function, muscle function and performance and if this is repeated it could have a big impact on overall recovery.
If there is body mass deficit at the end of a session then it is recommended to completely replace fluid losses prior to the start of the next training session. Electrolytes, particularly sodium, are also lost with sweat and replacing sodium losses increases the retention of ingested fluid and allows for better hydration. Carbohydrate Electrolyte solutions such as Complete Hydration Drink™ are perfect for this as they deliver a combination of water, carbohydrates and electrolytes to support adequate hydration. Drinking a beverage with sodium or eating sodium-containing snacks/foods helps replace sweat sodium losses, stimulate thirst and retain the ingested fluids.
Take Home Message.
In summary, to ensure that you always get the best from your training you should pay particular attention to certain nutritional strategies as soon as you finish your session. To achieve this, a blend of high GI carbohydrates (replenish), rapidly digestible protein (repair), and fluid with electrolytes (rehydrate) consumed within the hour after exercise will help to optimise overall recovery and improve performance.
Finally, the use of supplements can be a practical way of achieving this. This can be done through a combination of individual products or alternatively BULK POWDERS™ have developed a variety of products that tick all the boxes, such as Complete Recovery™.
About the Author
Steve has a Masters degree in Sports Physiology and works within the BULK POWDERS™ product team. His role includes all aspects of new product development, from recipe concept and formulation, to website content and legislations.