There are two things that happen during physical activity. First, the body is using energy. Secondly, the body is breaking down muscle. Both of these processes are a natural response to virtually every type of physical activity. Fortunately, there are key nutritional practices that can help the body rebuild and recover. In order to help maximize support of your workout, all active individuals and athletes should aim to consume a combination of Protein plus Carbohydrates after physical activity, or during what is commonly called the post-workout period. Let’s take a closer look at how Protein helps to support muscle recovery and how Carbohydrates help to restore energy.
Before we can talk Protein, we should first understand why Protein is recommended following activity. During physical activity muscles may experience muscle protein breakdown. This means the muscle fibers can actually undergo micro-damage or mini tears. However, don’t be alarmed as this is a normal response to vigorous exercise and intense training. In fact, we actually want our muscles to experience a healthy level of micro-damage to support muscle building over time. The degree to which muscle breakdown occurs will depend upon the level of exertion and duration of the activity. Generally, muscle protein breakdown increases with increased intensity and prolonged duration of activity. It’s important to allow muscles to properly recover following activity. That’s where Protein comes in.
Protein is made up Amino Acids, which play a large role in muscle recovery. There are 22 Amino Acids, nine of which are classified as Essential. For muscle recovery to occur, all nine of these Essential Amino Acids must be present in sufficient amounts. From those nine, there are three in particular which help to support muscle protein synthesis, known as the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). The three BCAAs include Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. Leucine specifically is needed to help ‘switch on’ muscle protein synthesis by signaling and regulating muscle recovery pathways. Aim to consume Complete Protein sources as these types include all nine of the Essential Amino Acids in sufficient quantities. Examples include meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, soy and dairy products like yogurt, milk, whey and casein.
Many tend to consider only Protein post-workout. However, post-workout nutrition should actually include a combination of Protein plus Carbohydrates. Here’s why. During physical activity, the body runs on two primary forms of energy - Glucose and Glycogen. Glucose is free circulating energy, whereas Glycogen is the body’s storage form of energy. If your body does not have enough circulating Glucose, then the body can tap into available Glycogen stores for energy. The amount of Glucose and Glycogen your body uses depends on the duration and intensity of activity. It’s important to restore energy with Carbohydrates because energy is needed for the brain, body, and to help fuel muscle recovery. Carbohydrates are also Protein sparing, meaning that if Carbohydrate consumption is inadequate, then your body could use Protein for energy.
So, here’s what you can do. Refuel with Carbohydrates after a workout to help replenish Glucose and Glycogen stores. Consume a Carbohydrate-packed snack or meal. You may choose either Simple or Complex Carbohydrate sources for your post-workout snack or meal. Simple Carbohydrates will provide quick energy. Examples include glass of milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, fruit juice, pretzels, cereals and rice. Complex Carbohydrates will provide sustained energy. Examples include beans, peas, lentils, and whole grains such as oats and quinoa. If you have a poor appetite flowing an activity, choose a sports drink.
TIMING AND AMOUNT
When it comes to timing, there is no single perfect time. There’s a common perception that individuals should consume nutrients within a specific time frame post-workout. This is known as the ‘anabolic window’ and there’s a belief that there is a limited time after training to optimize Muscle Protein Synthesis and maximize muscle building. However, muscle recovery and building does not just occur a couple hours after a workout. Instead, muscle recovery occurs around the clock for subsequent days as the body recovers. In fact, muscle recovery can last up to 48 hours or more following an activity. Regardless, post-workout nutrition is a prime fueling opportunity as muscles are especially receptive to nutrients. That's why it’s important to replenish energy and support muscle recovery following activity.
Aim to consume 20 to 40 grams of Complete Protein as soon as it is convenient after physical activity. Try to consume your protein from whole food sources, if possible. If for some reason you can’t, such as not having an appetite, Protein Supplements such as Protein Powder is a great option. The amount of carbohydrates tend to differ based largely on goals. For example, those participating in strength-based activities may have higher protein needs. Those whose sports or activities that are more sustained in effort and longer in duration may typically need more Carbohydrates post-workout or activity to help replenish Glycogen used.
For sports and physical activities, aim to consume Protein plus Carbohydrates at a time that works best for you, whether that’s at the gym, on-the-go or at home. Protein can help support muscle recovery while Carbohydrates can help replenish Glycogen stores lost during activity. It's important to lock down your post-workout routine to help support muscle recovery. Adequate recovery time, as well as a balanced diet are key factors that affect muscle recovery and rebuilding.