So how much should we eat after a heavy workout? We ask the experts to give us the low-down on recovery fuel.
As the sweat starts to subside, the post-gym munchies start to set in. Within 30 to 60 minutes post workout is the optimum time to eat a recovery snack, and it’s important that you do it right.
“Adequate refuelling after exercise is important to replenish glycogen stores and to allow muscles to repair, recover and adapt to the exercise that you have just done,” says sports dietitian Margaret Mielczarek (fuelrightnutrition.com.au).
“But you don’t have to refuel after every exercise session; any training of low-moderate intensity that lasts for up to 60 minutes may not need any additional nutrition, and resuming normal eating will be generally enough to refuel.”
What to eat after heavy training sessions
When training for longer periods and at higher intensities, ‘food first’ after training is a priority. “Enjoy a snack or meal that consists of protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates,” says Mielczarek. Logic would have us believe that post-workout grub would vastly differ between training types, but in reality our bodies hold our macronutrients in fairly equal stead when it comes to recovery and refuelling.
“Pre- and post-workout snacking doesn’t vary that much…we generally recommend about 15 to 25 grams of protein and one gram of carbs per kilogram of body weight after a heavy training session – our bodies don’t use any more than 25 grams of protein in recovery and any extra will typically get stored as body weight.”
The importance of protein
The role of protein in this instance is to repair exercise-induced muscle damage, which prevents muscle soreness and encourages hypertrophy. Breaking down this protein into amino acids the body can use takes energy, so by co-ingesting protein and carbohydrates you are guaranteeing you’ll get the most out of both. It also shouldn’t be assumed that exercises like weights training, although they are low intensity from a VO2 point of view, don’t require carbohydrate replenishment too.
According to research published by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, a multiple-set bout of resistance training exercise caused a 25 to 45 per cent drop in muscle glycogen, and a single 30-second sprint resulted in a 27 per cent drop. Fats should factor into recovery as part of a macronutrient balanced diet, but as they take longer to metabolise (slowing the digestion of your post-workout fuel), they aren’t suitable for recovery where fairly rapid absorption is ideal.