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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Post Exercise Recovery and Nutrition

This article addresses recommended nutrition immediately following an exercise session to aid in optimal recovery. Some may have started training for a 5K or a 10K and may even be following the training plans suggested in my 5K training or 10K training posting.

After an exercise session, be it running, swimming, cycling, or weights, we lose various vitamins and minerals through sweat. It is true that eventually we end up reloading most of the nutrients we lost through food and drink. However, to make sure that your body recovers as fast as possible and receives the needed nutrients when it needs them most, it is recommended by sports nutritionists that we eat or drink a combination of carbohydrates and protein within 30-40 minutes after each exercise session. The carb-protein combo is a good rule of thumb for most post-exercise recovery plans. However, low-key (aerobic) training that lasts less than an hour can be replenished by a sports drink containing carbohydrates and sodium. For moderate or high-intensity training sessions of up to and in excess of an hour, a recovery drink containing a mixture of carbohydrate and protein is ideal.

The reason this nutrition recovery plan is a good idea is because during the 30-40 minutes immediately after exercise the body is more capable in absorbing glucose (a carbohydrate-based energy source we consume during exercise) and protein. This means that almost all, if not all, nutrients you ingest during this window will be sucked up by your body immediately and the protein will quickly be transported to thirsty muscles (to minimize soreness and help in building strength) and the carbohydrates (and the glucose) will quickly travel to your liver to replenish it with the glucose that was used up during exercise.

There are many recovery drinks on the market today to help in proper post-exercise recovery. You can try several to suit your taste. As long as you get 15 to 20 grams of protein and about 60-80 grams of carbohydrates it will be a sufficient recovery drink. I know of some athletes who go "old-school" and use a glass of chocolate milk as their recovery drink. This may work for you if you end your workouts close to home where refrigerated milk is accessible. However if you go cycling or running somewhere and your recovery drink has to wait for you for several hours in a backpack that is in a hot car, this may not be a good idea since we all know what happens to milk after it stays in the hot sun for a while. Various sports recovery drinks have worked for me over the years. I also like the fruit or vanilla flavors. So try some out and chose one that you like best.

Several hours following exercise, once your stomach calmed down, a high protein meal with some starch is ideal. One example would be a light meal consisting of chicken breast or fish, with a side of vegetables and some rice or potatoes. Other recovery meals (or snacks) that can be eaten a few hours following exercise include peanut butter and jam bagel (or sandwich), yogurt with granola or fruit, an energy bar, pasta salad with cheese (preferably low fat), or a turkey/chicken sandwich on whole wheat.

Proper recovery is essential to keep our bodies healthy and strong so we can continue with the chosen training regimen for weeks, and in some cases, months at a time. If we recover nutritionally after exercise, our muscles, liver, and other parts of our body will be properly fueled for the next training session. This way, we can attack each session with renewed energy and perhaps with a bit more vigor as a result of past training and effective recovery.

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