What is Workout and Post-Workout Nutrition?
Workout nutrition has been an intriguing topic lately and rightfully so. Numerous studies have taken place examining everything from the composition of the carbohydrate, to the exact amino acid combination. And newer studies continue to reveal effective workout nutrition strategies for athletes and recreational exercisers of all types. There are plenty of advertisements on this too. Have you seen the Gatorade commercials?
When looking at the broad topic of “workout nutrition,” one has to understand what the ultimate goal is. Exercisers are usually trying to accomplish three things:
1) Energy replacement (glycogen replenishment)
2) A decrease in protein breakdown
3) An increase in protein synthesis
In other words, exercisers want to replenish their energy stores and increase muscle size and/or muscle quality. And in doing so, they want to increase performance and/or improve their appearance.
Proposed Benefits of Workout Nutrition:
- Improved recovery
- Less muscle soreness
- Increased ability to build muscle
- Improved immune function
- Improved bone mass
- Improved fat burning
Why are workout and post-workout nutrition so important?
Muscle protein synthesis is increased (or unchanged) after resistance workouts, but not as much as protein breakdown. The relationship between rate of muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown represents the metabolic basis for muscle growth. I know I know, it's "sciency" sounding
Muscle growth occurs when a positive protein balance can be achieved during recovery (Post - Workout). Some of my long distance running clients gets tired of me harping on them about getting enough protein/food. It is especially difficult for them (endurance athletes) to add muscle since protein synthesis drops and protein breakdown goes up.
But not all is lost -- this trend can be reversed, if protein synthesis is stimulated and protein breakdown is suppressed when you consume the right type of nutrients right after exercise.
It seems like every trainer/coach out there has the same line when coming to nutrition “EAT MORE PROTEIN”. However, protein is not the only concern. During workouts, stored carbohydrates can be substantially depleted. So, it is important to give our body the raw materials through eating food/supplements during the workout and post – workout to foster the best metabolic environment we desire. When choosing carbohydrates, keep in mind that glucose is absorbed faster than fructose, and solutions high in fructose have been linked to gastrointestinal distress, greater fatigue, and higher cortisol levels.
What You Should Know
A main factor that can influence the amino acid/glucose delivery and transport is availability. The blood flow to muscle during and after exercise is very high. Therefore, providing an amino acid/glucose packed blood supply during and after exercise, the rate of protein synthesis goes up.
Some refer to this workout and post-workout phenomenon as “the window of opportunity”. To take advantage of this window, you could eat a whole food meal directly after exercise. However, as whole food is slower digesting, you might want to consider recovery drink/bars that contain rapidly digesting carbohydrates (e.g., maltodextrin, dextrose, glucose, etc) and proteins (e.g., protein hydrolysates or isolates).
Consuming nutrients especially in liquid form can result in rapid digestion and absorption, plus, liquids are usually tolerated better during/workouts.
Summary and Recommendations
As a baseline, start by ingesting 30g carbohydrate and 15g protein (in 500ml water) per hour of workout time. This means if you’re working out for one total hour, you’re sipping your 30g carbohydrate and 15g protein drink during that hour. And if you’re working out for two hours, you’re sipping your first 30g carbohydrate and 15g protein drink during the first hour and your second 30g carbohydrate and 15g protein drink during the second hour. Once your workout is done, have a whole food meal within an hour or two of the workout.
If you want to know more about optimal nutrition, I encourage you to check out the comprehensive Precision Nutrition program. This program is my recommendation for the top practical nutrition resource on the market today.