Let’s talk about post-workout nutrition (aka recovery). Recovery begins immediately after exercise ends. Two nutrients, protein and carbohydrates, play a vital role in this process and deserve special attention. Both should be eaten immediately following exercise (within 30-45 minutes), ideally in combination for better absorption and utilization by the body.
Studies have shown that a 2-hour delay in carbohydrate consumption following a workout can substantially delay the rate at which glycogen (carbohydrates stored in muscle) is replenished. Therefore, athletes should consume carbohydrates as soon as possible after the exercise session ends. The athlete’s size and type of workout play a role in how much carbohydrate should be consumed (1). See the post workout meal suggestions below.
Exercise causes carbohydrate, fat, and even some protein to be broken down and used to provide energy for working muscles. In addition to carbohydrates, protein should also be consumed within the first hour after exercise to help with muscle repair and growth. Protein from food provides the necessary amino acids for building and maintaining muscle. CrossFitters need about 1.5-2g per kg of body weight or 0.75-1g per pound of body weight. For example, a 175 pound athlete would need about 120-160 g of protein per day. No matter how much protein an athlete consumes, it should be in balance with carbohydrate, fat and energy intake, and it should be specific to the athlete’s performance and body composition goals (1). According to one of the most referenced research studies on protein ingestion and protein synthesis conducted by Moore DR, et al. individuals should consume about 20g of high-quality protein. For example: roughly 2 cups of milk, 3 oz of lean beef, 2.5 oz of lean chicken or turkey, ¾ cup of cottage cheese, or 20g of an isolate protein powder.
It is important to remember that our diet plays a vital role in providing adequate energy for physical activity and daily functions. The type, amount, composition, and timing of food intake can dramatically affect performance. A well-planned diet will help optimize performance and is essential in helping an athlete meet their athletic goals (2). The bottom line is that you NEED to plan ahead and have food or a protein shake ready following a workout.
Sample pre or post exercise snack/ meal
- 1 piece of whole wheat toast, pita +1 medium Apple or other serving of fruit + 1-2 eggs
- 1 scoop protein powder + 1 banana + 1 C milk or milk alternative
- Low-fat or non-fat Greek yogurt + 1/2 -1 C berries + 1-2 eggs
- Omelet with veggies + 1-2 pieces of whole wheat toast or 1/4-1/2 C oats
- 1/2 C cottage cheese + 1/2 C fresh fruit
- Tuna sandwich on whole wheat bead + 1 piece of fresh fruit
- Fundamentals of Sport and Exercise Nutrition- Marie Dunford, 2010.
- Nutrition for health, Fitness & Sport- Melvin H Williams, 2010.