Arctic Challenge / Challenge Journal / Training

Nutrition and exercise: How the right post-workout foods can help athletes succeed

By Jamie Lloyd

Getting through the Arctic Circle Race and improving athletic performance starts with post-workout nutrition.

Tackling freezing temperatures and arduous terrain will be tough for The Arctic V, and they should be putting plenty of thought into their food and drink.

The post-activity (workout, practice, or competition) meal sets up the success or failure of the next workout, and will have a massive effect on recovery. Remember, if you don’t take care of your post-workout nutrition properly, your next workout will suffer.

Why it’s so important to eat post-workout:

The post-activity meal is probably the most important meal of the day, apart from breakfast. Both of those feeding times are crucial times for the body to take in vital nutrients for growth, repair, and energy. Following intense exercise, the body is in a catabolic state, meaning it’s breaking down muscle to fuel itself, trying to preserve its pre-exercise state. It’s during this window of opportunity, which is only open for 30-60 minutes, that the body optimises its ability to replenish lost energy stores, namely muscle and liver glycogen.

During this ‘open window’ of 30-60 minutes, the body begins muscle protein synthesis (building) for muscle tissue recovery and repair, replaces fluids lost through sweat, and adapts to the stress of the workout.

The amount and quality of the post-activity meal will play a direct role in the how well your recovery takes place. The harder and longer you’re active, the more important it is to refuel the body for the next workout. In order to get the most out of your post-activity meal it should be made up of carbohydrates, proteins, and fluids/electrolytes.

What should athletes be eating after a workout:

Getting enough carbohydrates post-workout is crucial to restoring the glycogen levels within the muscles. Glycogen within the muscle and liver is one of the fuel sources used during exercise and sport. Ingesting good quality carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, vegetables, fresh fruit, cereal, and energy bars provide enough quality carbohydrates to begin refueling the muscles with lost glycogen.

The next macro-nutrient, protein, is an important part of the post-activity meal. Protein consumed within the ‘open window’ of recovery should be about 10-20g. Protein is important because it provides amino acids, which are the building block for muscle, and ensures a positive protein balance, which means the protein synthesis exceeds protein breakdown. Because protein is broken down during activity, failure to consume protein can lead to muscle loss. Good protein sources are eggs, meat, yogurt, nuts and post-workout recovery shakes.

How and when should athletes eat?

Now that you know the importance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fluids, how should they be consumed? That is based on individual preferences, as many athletes have a hard time eating solid food immediately following activity. For those individuals, I suggest a post-workout protein shake or 50g of carbohydrate within the first 30 minutes for the refueling of glycogen, protein synthesis, and fluid loss. This shake should then be followed by some type of whole food meal within the next hour.

Others might be able to eat a snack, such as a bagel with peanut butter. It does not matter how you take it in, solid, fluid, or a whey protein supplement, as long as it meets the criteria above and is within the 30-60 minute window post activity.

Follow these simple suggestions so that your body is fuelled properly in order that you can give your best to each workout, practice, or game.

Jamie Lloyd is a multi-award winning health and fitness coach based in south west London. He is also the British Kettlebell Champion and is available for private coaching, nutrition coaching and group fitness training.


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