What’s the best way to recover after a workout? The faster we recover the faster we can train again!
While exercise provides the stimulus for muscles to grow and get stronger, we need the raw materials to rebuild structures and replenish fuel. So, if we don’t get enough energy, enough protein for building blocks, enough carbohydrates for glycogen, or enough micronutrients to help the process, we can’t recover and get stronger. Eating the right nutrients soon after you exercise can help your body get this done as efficiently as possible.
Protein in your muscles is broken down during exercise like lifting weights. When this happens, we need more protein to repair them, to get better and ready for the next training session. Consuming an adequate amount of protein after a workout gives your body the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild these proteins. It also gives you the building blocks required to build new muscle tissue.
For sedentary healthy adults around 1.2g per kilo of body weight should be sufficient to cover our basic daily requirements. Our requirements will go up if we’re training hard, or wanting to put on more muscle, or have a physical job, if we’re injured/sick or recovering from surgery, or because we’re older (because our digestion process decreases, so we need more to meet requirements).
Carbohydrates are the fastest-acting macronutrient source for energy transfer, but we don’t store much of them. Glycogen is the storage form of dietary carbohydrates, which our body stashes away in our liver and muscle cells. When we’re using our muscles e.g. sprinting, our muscles start using that glycogen for energy. Have you ever felt that “hitting the wall” feeling when you just can’t go anymore? That’s your muscles running out of their glycogen storage. That can be from either not eating enough carbohydrates or not replenishing them as you need. When this happens we start to oxidise fat.
As we increase intensity to moderate levels, we increase fat oxidation. However, once we get into higher levels of intensity, we return to levels of fat oxidation similar to very low intensities.
Fat is the body’s most concentrated source of energy, providing more than twice as much potential energy as carbohydrate or protein (9 calories per gram versus 4 calories each per gram). During exercise, stored fat in the body (in the form of triglycerides in adipose or fat tissue) is broken down into fatty acids. These fatty acids are transported through the blood to muscles for fuel. This process occurs relatively slowly as compared with the mobilization of carbohydrate for fuel. Fat is also stored within muscle fibers, where it can be more easily accessed during exercise. Unlike your glycogen stores, which are limited, body fat is a virtually unlimited source of energy for athletes. Even those who are lean and mean have enough fat stored in muscle fibers and fat cells to supply up to 100,000 calories—enough for over 100 hours of marathon running!In order for fat to fuel exercise, however, sufficient oxygen must be simultaneously consumed.
This makes carbohydrates very important after physical exertion, when the body is looking to replace the glycogen that we used up during intense movement. If we are careful and get plenty of whole carbohydrate (whole foods – fruit or vegetables) in the two to three hours immediately after training or competition, our muscle glycogen will be rapidly and easily replenished, which means our recovery will be better, and we’ll be able to train again tomorrow.
Water intake will hugely affect your recovery too! Make sure your getting at least 2-3 litres a day, and add an extra half-whole litre for every hour of exercise.