Recovery nutrition is just as important as your workout, but let's start by defining exactly what it is. Recovery nutrition means the foods that you consume after you workout. For this article, we will discuss what you consume right after the training session, and the meal after that. It’s not incorrect to say that recovery nutrition also includes what you eat the next day and even the rest of the week, but for simplicity, we will talk about immediate post-training consumption.
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What you eat right after training has an incredible impact on your results. You can maximize your training session or completely negate its positive effects in a few short hours. When you exercise you increase your body's demand for calories--by how many calories is dependent on your goals. For those looking to lose body fat, you need to consume less calories than you burn. For those looking to bulk up and build muscle, you need to consume more than you burn. Sounds simple, right? After you exercise, and, more specifically, strength train, your metabolism is elevated. It also can assimilate the majority of the calories that you consume and put them to work right away repairing your body and building muscle. In the past there was a lot of talk of the 20-minute window of assimilation, meaning that your body assimilates the most nutrients in the 20 minutes after you train. Years ago, Dr. Fred Hatfield told me that this idea was propagated by Gatorade and a lot of gyms with juice bars. Gatorade did a lot of good research, and still does, so I’m confident that this is true to some degree. Gyms and supplement companies jumped on this to maximize profits by selling you a shake or a Gatorade at their juice bars. While your body does indeed put those calories to work right away and ingesting them is very important, the window is actually longer than 20 minutes. Emerging research shows that consuming a liquid meal (shake) and then a solid-food meal about an hour after the shake is much more effective than a shake alone.
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After strength training, your body is depleted of glucose and needs to replace it. Glucose is sugar, a very specific type of sugar that your body stores in the skeletal muscles, the liver and the brain, and uses for energy. When it gets too low on glucose (sugar) you will feel it. That is why, after a hard training session, you will feel a little tired or maybe even spacey. Your body is screaming for sugar after you train. It also needs protein. When you lift weights, you need protein to repair the muscles. Lifting weights causes micro-trauma to the muscles; eating protein repairs the micro-trauma and allows the muscles to get bigger and stronger.
After we train, the types of foods that we eat dictate the results we get. If you go to a fast food place or eat pre-packaged foods, you will get lousy results. This is the time to eat the highest quality foods that you can afford. Let's start with the post-workout meal. I said your body is screaming for sugar right after the workout, right? This is not a license to eat candy. We are looking to replenish glucose and one of the best and cheapest ways is to eat some fruit. Fruit is natural and contains good sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup or other manmade, chemical forms of sugar.
I have mentioned the shake right? A liquid meal is very easily digested. In the immediate post-workout period (around 10-20 minutes after), the faster you can get the nutrients to your body, the better. This is why a shake consisting of carbohydrate (sugar) and protein is so important. Protein powder and carbohydrate powders are absorbed by the body almost instantly. Solid food needs to be broken down by your body and, while this is done fairly quickly, it is best to have the liquid meal. It is the fastest way to get nutrients in.
For those of you looking for the best results, we like Waxy Maize starch or a product called Power Carb instead of fruit as our source of sugars. Waxy Maize starch is made from corn and it digests very quickly, which is what we want. Power Carb is made from rice and potatoes and is also absorbed very quickly. Both of these products are also easy on the digestive system and do not typically cause GI distress (gas/bloating). They replace the sugar lost through training quickly and effectively. I highly recommend them.
A lot of athletes like to use Dextrose powder, too. This is not a bad choice but it does cause some GI distress in some people.
The second part of the equation is protein. You must eat protein after training! The type is up to you. Whey protein is cheap and very effective. It is the most rapidly absorbed type of protein supplement available and is an excellent choice. For many, whey causes GI distress and for them it is not a good choice. You will know if this is the case quickly. If whey causes you distress, try a protein blend with a few different types of protein in it. If you are not sure what to get, go to a reputable supplement store, like ANC in Everett.
Don't get caught up in the advertising hype from supplement companies saying that their protein is 300% more effective than "x.” Think about it, if you use a basic whey protein and gain 4 pounds of muscle in a month, that means that using Brand X that is 300% more effective will make you gain 1,200 pounds of muscle in a month. That's a lot of muscle and I don't see too many 1,200-pound beasts walking around. It's just hype. Use the best quality protein supplement that you can afford consistently and you will make steady gains. A $65.00 jug of protein is not much more effective than a $30.00 jug. Save your money and invest it in some personal training. You'll get more out of it.
OK, so we have covered the basics, what is next? There are literally reams of research showing the benefits of BCAA supplementation. BCAAs are Branched-Chain Amino acids. Taking BCAAs is proven to repair muscle and build new muscle incredibly well. I won't go into all the wonders of BCAAs, but I will say that if you can afford them, they are the first choice after taking carbs and protein.
L-Glutamine is also a major nutrient that you should consider adding to your shake. L-Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in your body and the most rapidly depleted through exercise. Replacing it quickly leads to less muscle soreness, faster recovery and more muscle-mass building.
If you are going to spend money on nutritional supplements, buy ones that have a proven record through research and use in the field. Don't buy the latest thing in the magazines. The products that I have listed here are basically foods that have been broken down to digest easily. They are not pseudo-drugs that make wonder claims.
OK, we now know what to eat, but how much should you use? I'll make it easy for you. As a general guideline, you want to ingest your protein and carbs in a 2-1 ratio post workout. This means that if you take in 30 grams of protein, you should take in 60 grams of carbs. These guideline are not for someone following a plan from a nutritionist. They could be on a low-carb plan or a very high carb plan and the ratios will be different. These are general guidelines.
For men, we will use this rule: consume 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight for gaining muscle and losing fat. If you weigh 200 pounds, you need 200 grams of protein. Divide this number by the number of times you eat per day. For best results, you should eat 6 times a day including shakes and snacks. 200 divided by 6 equals roughly 33. This means we need 33 grams of protein at each meal. Factor in your carbs and you need 66 grams of carbs post workout with your protein. This breaks down to about a scoop and a half of standard why protein and a scoop and a half of Power Carb. It's that simple.
Ladies need less protein to build muscle so we will go with the guideline of .8 grams per pound of weight. A 135-pound female would need about 110 grams of protein daily. Broken up over 6 meals, this is 18 grams of protein per meal. Following the 2:1 ratio, a 135-pound female needs 36 grams of carbs post-workout. This works out to be about 3/4 of a scoop of standard whey and about a full scoop of Power Carb post-workout.
So what about the meal about 1 hour after that? This meal should be a solid food meal consisting of protein, fat and carbohydrate. A great example is sweet potato with fresh cinnamon, grilled chicken breast with all the spices you want, lots of fresh vegetables in any amount and a salad with some olive oil. I like to have my clients consume fish oil capsules at this meal as well. The body absorbs nutrients much more rapidly at this time and you might as well have the fish oil when you can absorb it the best.
This meal should follow the 2:1 ratio as well, but don't count any carbs from leafy vegetables. Only count carbs from energy-producing sources like sweet potato, rice, quinoa and other grains and starchy vegetables, etc.
Follow these guidelines for post-workout recovery nutrition and watch your progress go through the roof. The importance of recovery nutrition cannot be underestimated.