Man drinking a recovery shake after a workout.

5 Post Workout Nutrition Recovery Tips

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Post workout nutrition recovery is vitally important to fitness and health progression, but you probably already knew that.  It is spoken of time and time again by fitness professionals, people down the gym, our friends who like to research all things fitness and perhaps the well informed team mate if you play sports.

Post workout nutrition recovery is a critical part of any training or fitness program because our bodies are extremely responsive to receiving and using the nutrients we provide it at this time, enabling us to successfully recover and progress stronger and improved for future challenges and workouts.

It has been suggested in research that our bodies are up to three times faster at replacing muscle carbohydrate stores in the 60 minutes following exercise as opposed to several hours later, and the sooner after exercise the better, as we are even more responsive at this point.  Similar research also highlights that consuming protein at this time (immediately after exercise) can significantly improve the effectiveness of muscle fibre repair.

Despite the significance of carbohydrate and protein replenishment, there are so much more vital nutritional strategies that need attending to during the post workout phase.  There is no time to delay, always be prepared to recover as soon as possible from your workouts.

Follow these five strategies for an optimal post workout nutrition recovery experience:

Strategy 1:  Replace used carbohydrate stores immediately

During shorter but high intensity bouts of exercise i.e. 20 – 30 minutes or a workout that lasts for 60 minutes or more we drain our carbohydrate energy supplies.  We need to replace this with high glycemic foods for quickest possible replenishment of glycogen stores.  High glycemic foods are those that can be utilised immediately upon deliverance to the body and need very little or no breaking down into smaller components before they can be used.

Aim to consume 0.5–0.7 grams of high glycemic carbohydrate for every 1 lb (about 1.0–1.5 grams per kg) of body weight within 30 minutes of finishing exercise for best results.  Liquid form carbohydrate is usually a favourable approach post workout due to its convenience and high glycemic load.  Glycemic load refers to the serving size of the carbohydrate food or liquid.  Specially designed sports drinks and supplements can be useful and some modern products really are designed with you and your goals in mind.

Strategy 2:  Protein to accelerate muscle repair process

In addition to carbohydrate replenishment we need to ensure we get in some protein.  We also want to ensure the protein we consume immediately following a workout is especially rich in leucine, isoleucine, and valine – the branched chain amino acids.

A carbohydrate to protein ratio of 3-1 or 4-1 should be targeted – research supports both so find what works best for you personally.  This means consuming around 15-25 grams of protein along with the fast acting carbohydrates.

This protein intake provides the amino acid building blocks needed to repair muscle fibres that become damaged during exercise whilst promoting the development of new muscle tissue.  Protein powders are the most convenient choice here for all the same reasons given for carbohydrates above.  Choose whey protein or egg protein powders for the best results and quick effective protein delivery.

Strategy 3:  Re-hydration process

The chances you will be dehydrated once you complete a workout are undoubtedly high.  Water plays a vital role in all bodily processes by providing a universal medium for chemical reactions, lubrication, nutrient delivery, waste disposal, heat dispersion and temperature regulation.  So pretty damn important, right?

Replace lost fluids by gradually drinking 16–24 fl oz of a recovery beverage, sports drink, or water for every lb of weight lost (1000–1500 ml/kg weight lost).

You may have successfully remained hydrated through your session if you know your sweating rate but it’s not an easy task, so always check at the end if any weight has been lost – if it has commence with rehydration.  If you’re not sure how to do this it’s quite simple – just weigh yourself directly before exercise and then immediately afterwards.  The amount of weight you have lost in pounds (lbs) represents your personal sweat rate.

It’s quite possible you will not be able to fully hydrate within the 30-60 minute window following exercise, so rehydration should be considered an ongoing process over then following several hours post exercise.

You can tell if you are sufficiently hydrated by checking the colour of your urine.  The aim is to get your urine to a very light yellow or clear in appearance.  If it is dark yellow or orange then this represents dehydration and requires that you drink more fluids.

Strategy 4:  Replacing and restoring electrolyte balance

The term electrolyte refers to any of the salts sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium and magnesium, which can be located in our cells or bloodstream.  The purpose of electrolytes is to help conduct electrical currents to contract and relax muscle whilst at the same time maintaining our body’s fluid levels.

During exercise we drain these electrolytes through the process of sweating.  It goes without saying that we need to replace these salts as soon as possible to begin the rehydration process and successfully restore a healthy and favourable balance.

We can get these electrolytes through the foods we eat and fruit or fruit juice is a good choice to get all of them quickly.

However, fruits will not provide sodium.  Sodium just happens to be the electrolyte we lose the most of through sweating so it will be necessary to replenish this by adding 2-3 pinches of salt to a post exercise recovery drink.  This is why commercially prepared sports drinks are of benefit as many of the better designs offer fluids and electrolytes together for adequate replenishment.

Strategy 5:  Reducing acidity of bodily fluids

During exercise bodily fluids can become highly acidic; if this is left unattended once a workout has ended the situation can lead to increased nitrogen and calcium loss with detrimental effects on physique and performance.

This occurs because the body attempts to reduce acidity by releasing relevant minerals to try to increase alkalinity of the fluids as a counteractive measure – calcium and nitrogen are the perfect minerals for this job.

Calcium from the bones and nitrogen from the muscles are very valuable to us in terms of structural components, so having to neutralize the acid in this way means we can lose out on the job these important minerals do for us.  This also means we can lose out on muscle and bone mass/quality.

To prevent this from happening we need to assist our body post exercise to return back to its preferred pH of alkalinity.  It is in this state that the body can thrive and improve.

Research states that the only way we can do this is through the consumption of fruit and vegetables.

Rescuing your muscle and bone simply means preparing your post workout recovery with fruits, fruit juices, alkaline based waters or the innovative green supplements that can now be added to shakes and drinks.

Final thoughts on post workout nutrition recovery

In order to experience a successful post work out recovery we need to follow these five strategies.  We want to get some fast acting carbohydrates and proteins that are rich in branch chain amino acids, we need to hydrate immediately and replenish electrolytes lost through sweating whilst finally considering the need to return our bodily fluids back to its preferred pH of alkalinity to avoid calcium and nitrogen loss.

It is really very simple, right?  Well, no not really, but you will get the hang of it with practice and sensible preparation.

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