Do we have to keep talking about post-workout nutrition? UMMM YES! Because the more we are exposed to the marketing tactics of the billion-dollar supplement industry, the more confusing it gets. You can go to a variety of different websites right now and find a variety of different recommendations for post-workout nutrition and hydration, based upon what supplements they are trying to sell.
As many people know, people will try just about anything in order to improve performance. Some of these may be legal, and some – not so much. However, one of the ways that we know from years of observation and research is that post-workout nutrition is a vital (and fairly easy way) to help our bodies recover and improve performance.
And there’s always something new on the horizon! But hey, if our favorite athlete endorses it, it must be legit, right? (Not necessarily! There have been several supplement companies that have been dropped in the recent past due to failure to. . . perform). An additional concern is that many companies make claims that have not been proven in objective, peer-reviewed research. (A hint for you if you would like to find out if any research has been on your product – don’t only check on their website, but look for studies and abstracts on Google Scholar! It’s a great place to start!)
Even more confusing. . . Guidelines can be different for endurance vs. strength exercise. But what if you’re doing both, combined – in the same workout?! It can get REALLY overwhelming!
Three Important Facts
There are three main factors we often look at when exploring (immediate) post exercise recovery: Replenishment of hydration, glycogen, and protein (or amino acids).
Post Exercise Hydration Recommendations
Depending on one’s age, sex, fitness level (and a variety of other factors, including ambient heat), hydration recommendations are often individualized. However, there are a couple of general ways to make sure you rehydrate in a healthy way.
- Weigh yourself before and after your event or exercise bout. Then rehydrate in a way that allows you to restore the lost “water weight.”
- If you are exercising for a prolonged time (one hour or more), it is recommended that post-workout supplementary hydration include carbohydrates (to replenish glycogen stores) and electrolytes (primarily sodium) to increase palatability and decrease risk of hyponatremia. (1, 2)
Glycogen & Protein
Immediately post exercise probably the only time I really recommend supplementing with a simple carb. Ideally, within an hour of exercise, supplementing with a carbohydrate and protein drink is ideal. The sooner glycogen can be restored in the muscle, the sooner the now-broken down muscle can begin to repair with amino acids. The faster you repair, the faster you recover! Taking in around a 2:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein with at least 20-30 grams coming from protein is ideal.
So what about these “newer” recovery drinks?
You know, the “all natural,” slightly carbonated recovery drinks that endorse various athletes, and events, both extreme and traditional. Well I can tell you that neither the protein levels nor the carbohydrate amounts are appropriate for recovery. Some don’t contain sodium at all, (while containing other electrolytes), and sweeteners that are not sugar have varying effects on blood sugar levels (and insulin response). However, many of these products contain amino acids and anti-inflammatory ingredients such as B vitamins, ginger, turmeric, bromelain, etc. BUT due to their “proprietary blends,” we do not know how much of each is in the drink, and therefore do not know if they are at therapeutic levels as such to inhibit inflammation.
The verdict? Choosing the brand/taste you like the most and if they make you feel good, enjoy!..Just after your regular recovery shake
THIS OR THAT ?
The most effective post-workout drink seems to include 0.8g/kg (of body weight) of carbohydrate and 0.4g/kg of protein along with electrolytes such as potassium, chloride, and about 0.5-0.7g of sodium per liter of water to help increase palatability and restore sweat losses.
Sabrina is a Ph.D., National Board Certified-HWC and a physiologist with a background in advertising, writing, and editing as well as nutrition and kinesiology.