How you eat to recover from exercise is one of the most important principles in exercise nutrition. If you don’t refuel sufficiently after each session, your glucose (glycogen) stores in muscle can get depleted leading to tiredness, poor performance and even immune system suppression and infection. Glucose is the athlete’s and exerciser’s main fuel. You get it from carbohydrate foods and drinks. What’s more, inadequate refueling after your session won’t take advantage of that hard muscle work by giving those muscles an anabolic boost that repairs and builds.
Weight trainers do not use as much glucose fuel as the higher intensity or higher duration aerobic sports like track and endurance running and cycling, but even so, it pays to keep those glycogen stores topped up if you want to be at your best in training. You will notice glucose depletion more after muscle-endurance and hypertrophy programs where higher repetitions, perhaps to failure, are slated rather than the low-rep strength sets where direct ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is likely the main fuel. Low numbers of repetitions with heavy weights are used to develop strength, whereas lighter weights and more repetitions are used to build muscle size and muscle endurance. The latter is likely to expend more energy.
Here is how to recover after your workout:
Commence recovery nutrition within 30 minutes of completion of the weights session.
Consume protein as soon as possible: 10-20 grams of quality protein, the same as recommended for the pre-exercise meal.
Consume carbohydrate as soon as possible: one gram per kilogram body weight (0.5 grams per pound body weight) is a useful starting point. Consume carbohydrate according to the intensity and duration of the workout, including whether you did any aerobic exercise in the session.
Getting the Carbs Right:
Move the carbohydrate quantity up or down as you assess your weight and energy levels as you train or compete. Modify carbohydrate intake according to how often or intensely you work out. A one-hour session of combined weights and cardio at moderate to high intensity may require at least 5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight per day (2.5 grams/pound).
Here are estimates of carbohydrate requirements with weight training the focus. Intensity of exercise over time increases quantities required. If light exercise, choose the lower numbers; only applies to days of exercise; choose higher rates if you mix solid cardio sessions with weights. Estimates only.
— Casual activity – 3-4 grams/kilogram/bodyweight/day (divide by 2.2 for pounds)
— 30-60 mins exercise/day – 4-6 gm/kg/bw/day
— 60-90 minutes exercise/day – 5-7 gm/kg/bw/day
— 120 minutes or more/day — 6-9 gm/kg/bw/day
If you do more than one session each day, the post-exercise snack should be continued for each hour until regular meals resume. This is important to get you up for the later session. Few weight trainers choose to do two weights sessions a day, but some do an early session of cardio and a later session of weights or vice versa.
If you’re serious about this and want to take a precise approach, it’s worth buying one of those little calorie counter books or jumping onto calorieking.com or a similar site to check out how much protein or carbohydrate is in any food.
Getting the Protein Right:
You definitely don’t need to consume excessive quantities of protein in any form to build muscle and support your weight training or bodybuilding activity. Try not to exceed 1 gram per pound of body weight of protein daily. That may be a little more than what you will need but you don’t need more than that.
Getting the Balance Right:
You do need to eat sufficient food and carbohydrate to sustain your activities. Too little carbohydrate and your body will break down your muscle for glucose and reverse all those hard-gotten gains. Don’t believe advice that says carbohydrates are fattening. Everything is fattening. Don’t eat everything. Still, you can modify your carbohydrate intake for the better by avoiding refined flours, sugars, sweets and other quickly absorbed or processed carbohydrates when you are not exercising intensely.
The Least You Need to Know:
Don’t worry too much about the finer detail of calculating quantities if you don’t wish to. The detail is there for those who can use this precision, but most people don’t. Experience and getting to know how your body works is probably more important, as well as trial and error within the information provided here. Check out these main points:
Eat some protein and carbohydrate about thirty minutes before a session.
For sessions that proceed considerably longer than an hour at moderate to high intensity, and include cardio, take a sports drink during the session.
Eat some protein and carbohydrate immediately or within 30 minutes of the end of the session.
Don’t use protein supplements excessively. You can get the required amount of quality protein from lean chicken, fish, soy, skim milk and some red meat.
Some weight trainers do better with six smaller meals a day rather than three larger meals. Don’t fret about this; it doesn’t suit everyone. However, always eat breakfast.
Eat a healthy diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fruit, vegetables, beans, whole grains and quality monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in nuts, seeds and oils.
Drink plenty of fluids to replace water lost. Beverages like tea and coffee contribute to this. The diuretic effect of these drinks has been overstated.