Most individuals understand the importance of eating before exercise and this topic has been considered previously in the ‘What to Eat Before Exercise’ article. Be sure to check it out if you’ve not already done so. What many individuals don’t understand is that your dietary requirements after exercise are just as, if not more important, to enable the body to recovery and replenish energy stores diminished during their chosen activity.
If you’re involved in regular training and aiming to enhance you performance levels in a chosen exercise, then the post exercise dietary consumption takes on an even greater importance. The aim of this article is to consider what and when to eat after undertaking exercise and to place the information into a user friendly format.
Although not covered in this article, the importance of adequate rehydration and fluid intake should also be considered in conjunction with your dietary requirements, however this topic will be considered separately, allowing the focus within this article to concentrate solely on the nutrition required to achieve optimal recovery.
During exercise, glycogen stores are utilised to provide fuel to the working muscles. Consequently, on ceasing exercise it is important to consume carbohydrate as soon as practicable and within a 15 minute window to help replenish these stores. Physical exertion often suppresses hunger and therefore the ability to consume carbohydrate through food is sometimes difficult immediately afterwards. This is where sports drinks – high in carbohydrate – are invaluable.
Following this immediate carbohydrate boost, research has suggested that this should be proceeded with the consumption of 0.15 – 0.3 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight within a window of 2 hours to rebuild adequate glycogen stores. These values are only approximates and should be tailored to suit the individual and their chosen activity. For obvious reasons, exercise undertaken at greater intensities and for greater time periods will require values towards the higher end of these scales. Waiting longer than the stated 2 hour window can reduce the body’s ability to store glycogen within the muscles, resulting in reduced stores for future performances.
Research has also considered the role of protein in a post exercise diet. Combining both protein and carbohydrate within 30 minutes of ceasing exercise has been shown to enhance the body’s ability to produce and store glycogen. The optimal ratio of these two food groups to achieve this desired effect is 4:1 (four grams of carbohydrate to every gram of protein). It is also important to note that altering this ratio in favour of protein has been shown to have detrimental effects by reducing the body’s ability to rehydrate and replenish glycogen.
Carbohydrate and protein combined sports drinks are also available to those who struggle to eat during this post exercise period and can be found at our online store. As well as assisting in replenishing glycogen stores, protein consumption has also been demonstrated to repair and rebuild damaged muscle tissue, enhance muscle hydration and stimulate the immune system, all of which are vital to prepare the body for future exertion.
In summary, if you are attempting to optimally refuel your body and assist its recovery following exercise then the 15 minute window regarding immediate carbohydrate intake and 2 hour window regarding the consumption of a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein diet should be followed. Remember, these values and figures are only making reference to dietary demands during the 2 hour period post exercise.
Outside of this, the dietary requirements in relation to the intake and amounts of carbohydrate, protein and other vital nutritional groups will be determined by the unique needs of the individual and their chosen activity. For example, those undertaking regular weight training will require a greater protein intake within their daily diet compared to those undertaking long distance running, who may choose to select a high carbohydrate diet. The key is to use the information generated via research and to make it suit your needs in an attempt to constantly achieve greater physical performances.
If you’re struggling for inspiration as to what to consume following your exercise routine then why not consider a selection of the leading post exercise supplements available below;