Previously, I wrote about how important it is to plan, or at the very least, be aware of the foods you eat before exercise. This helps you understand how your nutrition prior to exercise will likely effect how you feel and perform in your activity. This is worth our attention because if we truly want to excel in whatever sport or activity we participate in, eating the right foods with correct timing will increase our chances of top performance.
Dancers, you listen up too!
Similarly, the timing and food that we choose to eat immediately after exercise is very important.
Why? I’ll tell you why, curious learner.
After intense exercise, recovery should be your biggest priority. The sooner you can recover form intense exercise, the sooner you can train at a high level. The more intense and efficient workouts you complete in a certain amount of time, the higher the probability that you will improve in performance at whatever it is you are training for. It’s pretty simple. If you ignore how long you wait to eat and what you eat, after a workout/practice/session, your body won’t recover as quickly as if you did pay attention and address these concerns.
As with a similar post, these ideas are inspired by research I have done, as well as a book called “The Paleo Diet for Athletes.”
Here are a few goals to keep in mind when planning our recovery from exercise.
- Replace lost carbohydrate storage: We often hear how carbs are important for energy, and how athletes need to make sure they eat enough carbs. This is a specific example of why carbs are important to athletes. After an extended period of intense exercise, our bodies use up much of the carb-based energy sources we had stored. Replacing these stores can be done the quickest by taking in food that is high on the glycemic load (a more realistic take on the idea of glycemic index). Foods such as potatoes, grains and rice are good for this purpose. Glucose is high in these foods, which is why it helps in quick recovery. In contrast, fructose, found in fruits, is release slowly into the blood stream over a longer period of time. These are important concepts when referring to weight loss, maintenance or gain, but for now let’s continue to focus on exercise recovery. Note: this is why recovery drinks typically have a good amount of sugar.
- Rehydrate: This one is obvious. After exercise, we are dying for water. It’s hard to describe how good it feels when you can’t wait to get something to drink, and you finally get that ice cold water bottle or sports drink. Your body pretty much says “THANK YOU, it’s about time!!!” Depending on factors such as exertion, typer of exercise, weather, etc, you may have lost lots of liquid through sweating, so make sure you rehydrate real nice.
- Replace amino acids: Amino what? Was somebody “mean” to someone? Yes, that was a horrible joke that probably didn’t even make sense to most. “Mean” and a”min”o, sound the same, so I thought it would be funny if…oh, neverrrmindddd. Ok, focus, Isaac. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. During extended intense exercise, our bodies begin to break down protein structures for fuel, because our carb stores being to get depleted. Basically, we don’t want our bodies to break down muscle for energy! We want to stop that! This is why getting protein after exercise is important. Good sources of the type of amino acids that are most helpful at this point (BCAAs) are eggs, whey products, meats, seafood, etc. This is why whey protein shakes are so popular as recovery drinks for people who lift weights or participate in intense exercise.
- Side note. Liquid is the easiest form for the body to ingest nutrients. This is why protein shakes or chocolate milk are often touted as beneficial recovery drinks. Depending on the type of shake you make or buy and most chocolate milk products, have the right combination/ratio of carbs to protein, which is optimal for post exercise recovery. If you’re keeping track, studies have shown that a good carb to protein ratio would be 4:1 or 5:1. As an example, a turkey sandwich would have about this type of carb to protein ratio.
- Replacing electrolytes: These are salts that can be found within our cells or in extracellular fluids such as blood. Electrolytes are important because they play an important role in conducting an electric current that contracts and relaxes our muscles as well as maintaining levels of fluids in our body. Juices and fruits are an easy way to replace almost all electrolytes. However, sodium is not found in high enough quantity in fruits and juices to adequately replenish, therefore a bit of sea salt with your recovery nutrition might help. HOWEVER, keep in mind, significant electrolyte loss is rarely a problem, unless your event lasted hours or you exercised for an extended period of time in a high temperature environment. This doesn’t mean if you walked on a treadmill for twenty minutes while talking to your friend on the phone, that you can go home and pile on the salt.
Ultimately, it is up to you, the reader, to do your research. Figure out how you would like to apply these ideas to your own body and training regimen. I won’t sit here and tell you how much of what you need to eat and exactly what to do. I am simply sharing concepts that have caught my eye and I have tried, myself, that seem to work well. New research is being done all of the time, and studies often find contrasting bits of information. It is up to us to figure out what makes sense to us, and what information we would like to follow. After all, as I have suggested before, it’s always a good idea to slow down and re-evaluate how our plan is working, from time to time.
Cordain, Loren, and Joel Friel. The Paleo Diet for Athletes. USA, 2005. Print.