Recovery Nutrition: Part 2

In my last blog post, I talked about the importance of consuming protein after a hard workout. While protein is extremely important, it is only one part of the bigger picture. Of equal importance to protein are carbohydrates. Unfortunately, carbohydrates have been given a bad rap. Too often, I hear athletes talk about limiting carbohydrate-containing foods in their diets. Carbohydrates are NOT the enemy, but rather a vital component of an athlete’s diet.

Carbohydrate containing foods help restore the body’s carbohydrate stores, known as glycogen, in the liver and muscle. Glycogen is one of the major energy sources during exercise. The body’s carbohydrate reserves are often limited. In fact, muscle and liver glycogen stores can become depleted in about 60-90 minutes of continuous exercise or 5-15 minutes of intense, intermittent exercise. For those athletes who have been unfortunate enough to experience “hitting the wall,” this could be because the body’s glycogen stores have become depleted.

Post-workout, restoring glycogen should be a main goal, especially if you’re participating in two carbohydrate dependent athletic events close together. For instance, if you are participating in a soccer tournament, multiple track events or have a second workout later in the day, restoring glycogen before your next session becomes very important.

Like protein, carbohydrates should be consumed within 30 minutes of finishing exercise. Consuming carbohydrates within this 30-minute window is associated with increased glycogen synthesis compared to when carbohydrate intake is delayed. As mentioned in my last blog, higher rates of glycogen synthesis occur when carbohydrates and proteins are consumed together after exercise. If you have less than 8 hours recovery between two sessions, aim for 1-1.2g of carbohydrates/kg bodyweight/hour for the first 4 hours and then resume daily fuel needs. For instance, if you weigh 60 kg then aim for 60-70 grams of carbohydrates per hour for 4 hours. What does this look like? a bagel and cup of chocolate milk or a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Don’t feel hungry after working out? Try a bottle of Gatorade and box of raisins. The table below outlines the approximate carbohydrate content of some higher carbohydrate containing foods.

Food: Portion: Carbohydrates:
Sweet potato 1 cup 40 grams
Bagel 1 whole (90 g) 30 grams
Bread 1 piece 15 grams
Dry oats ½ cup 30 grams
Saltine crackers 13 crackers 30 grams
Dates 5 dates 30 grams
Raisins 1 small box 30 grams
Banana 1 large (130 g) 30 grams
Chocolate milk, 1% MF 1 cup 30 grams
Milk, 1% MF 1 cup 15 grams
Sports drink 2 cups 25-40 grams

This recommendation probably seems like a ridiculously high amount of carbohydrates to consume, but keep in mind this is for athletes who have less than 8 hours between two workout sessions. If you don’t have another exercise session within 8 hours, then the guidelines are less strict. The overall daily carbohydrate guideline for athletes can range from 3-12 grams of carbohydrates/kg bodyweight/day depending on the amount and intensity of exercise.

My take home message from these two blogs should be the importance of consuming both carbohydrates and protein within 30-minutes of completing exercise to optimize recovery. My personal favourite after a workout is a smoothie. It’s both easy to make and nutritious. Click this link for my very own smoothie recipe. It contains a great blend of protein and carbohydrates to help you prepare for your next workout. Enjoy!

Don’t forget to follow me on instagram: the.running.dietitian

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