The purpose of training is to provide a stimulus for the body to adapt, to become fitter, faster, stronger, leaner, or more economical. Therefore, consuming the correct nutrients post exercise allows you to take advantage of this exercise-induced stimulus and maximise your adaptation.
First things first, it is important to understand what physiological changes occur during exercise:
- The depletion muscle and liver glycogen (carbohydrate) stores.
- Damage/small micro-tears in muscle fibres.
- Loss of bodily fluids and electrolytes.
- Suppression of the immune system.
In order to establish the best nutritional strategy to optimise your recovery, you need to determine what the demands of your exercise session were. For example, a long endurance session would deplete muscle and liver glycogen stores to a larger extent than a resistance exercise session. However, a heavy resistance exercise session would induce greater muscle damage. Once you have established your demands, manipulate the simple three R’s to maximise your recovery:
1) Refuel – Refuelling involves ingesting carbohydrate to restore muscle and liver glycogen (carbohydrate) stores. The period immediately after exercise provides an extra stimulus to replenish muscle glycogen stores, as GLUT4 (the transporter which uptakes glucose from the blood into the muscle cell) is particularly active.
2) Repair – Repairing involves consuming an adequate amount of protein (25-35g) to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS), the process of muscle repair and growth.
3) Rehydrate – Rehydrating involves consuming fluid to achieve fluid balance. Assessing your thirst, urine colour and urine frequency (toilet stops) can help to determine your hydration status. If you are a particularly salty sweater, and can see salt crystals on your clothing after exercise, eating a salty snack or adding a small amount of salt to your drink will help restore electrolyte and fluid balance.
When the time between training sessions is limited (less than 18 hours), a proactive nutrition strategy is fundamental to ensure you can perform to the same intensity in the next training session. As the time frame between sessions decreases, the importance of recovery and nutrient timing increases.
About the Author
Mark Funnell holds a BSc (Honours) degree in Sport and Exercise Science and an MSc in Sport and Exercise Nutrition from Loughborough University. He is currently working as a Performance Nutritionist for the England and Wales Cricket Board with both the England Women’s Academy and Midlands Regional Disability Cricket squads. Additionally, Mark is a graduate member of the Sport and Exercise Nutrition Register (SENr), an ISAK Level 1 Anthropometrist and a UK Anti-Doping advisor.