Think of eating after exercise as "reloading your muscles." By re-fueling, you will replenish your muscle glycogen stores and be able to exercise longer and more intense during your training the next day. Rapid replenishment of muscle glycogen after exercise is the fundamental nutrition goal for all athletes.
Glycogen is the storage form of glucose (aka: carbohydrates) in your muscles. When an athlete's glycogen supply is low, muscles lack the energy to perform their best. Athletes who train daily or compete must maximize glycogen storage. Athletes can double the amount of glycogen their muscles can hold.
Fluid AFTER Exercise
After you finish cycling and running, the first nutrition priority is to replace any fluid lost by sweating.
To determine how much fluid to replace:
- Weigh yourself before and after a hard training workout (with minimal sweaty clothes). Your goal is to lose no more than 2% of your body weight (3 lbs. for a 150 lb. person)
- For every pound you have lost, drink 16 ounces of fluid.
Continue drinking until you have a significant quantity of pale-colored urine.
Carbohydrates (CHO) AFTER Exercise
Consume carbohydrate-rich foods and beverages within 15-30 minutes after your workout. This time frame is KEY! The longer you wait to eat after exercising (even as little as 90 minutes), this results in significantly less glycogen stored in the muscles. This will negatively impact your performance during your next workout.
Target carbohydrate intake for cyclist and runners exercising for 60 minutes or longer is 1.0-1.5 grams per kilogram of lean body weight.
Protein Ingestion AFTER Exercise
Don't forget the protein! It's important for many reasons, including assists in repairing damaged muscle tissue, stimulates development of new tissue, and enhances glycogen replacement in the initial hour after hard exercise. Aim to consume 10-20 grams of protein in your recovery food/beverage to assist in glycogen uptake. I suggest whey protein because it contains a complete amino acid profile, including the branched-chain amino acids, which promotes muscle recovery.
If you do a lot of endurance exercise, Uckele's Physio Recover is a convenient powder that's great for muscular energy support and post-training recovery. It also supports hormone and fluid balance.
Recovery Electrolytes (Sodium and Potassium)
Adequate electrolytes are beneficial and very important! Go ahead and satisfy your cravings for salt, especially if you have lost substantial weight during exercise or if you are a heavy sweater. The salt will help your body hold onto fluid and stimulate you to drink more. Cyclists and runners who may need extra salt include: people who are “salt sweaters,” those who ride/run in the heat, those who tour in hot weather for multiple days, and athletes who train in cold weather yet do their event (race, tour, etc.) in warm weather. I like this e-lyte sports concentration if you just need electrolytes and not carbohydrates. Simply add about a capful into your water bottle.
Along with sodium, also consume potassium rich fruits, vegetables, and juice post-exercise to replace any potassium losses.
Recovery and Weight Loss
If you are trying to lose weight, recovery time is not the time to do it. Your best bet for reducing body fat is to fuel appropriately for riding and running by consuming adequate carbohydrates before, during, and after riding. Cut back on calories, particularly calories from fat, refined sugars, and alcohol, after you have fully recovered; for instance, on rest days or later in the evening.
To Calculate Your Needs:
Your weight : ________ pounds ÷ 2.2 = __________ kilograms (kg)
Your weight in kg _________x 1.0-1.5 grams CHO = ___________________grams CHO to eat after exercising lasting 60 minutes or longer
The truth is, you'll notice a huge difference in how you feel when you take care of your muscles and body by refueling and rehydrating afterwards. What are your favorite refueling foods?
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods