You’re standing in front of your pantry or fridge, sweat dripping after a killer workout, and the thought crosses your mind—“what should I eat now?” While protein takes center stage when it comes to post-workout recovery, as a strength or endurance athlete you can’t forget the important role carbohydrates play. All carbohydrates break down in the body to glucose—the main fuel for muscular energy. Carbohydrates are key before, during and (surprisingly!) after exercise. While you’ve probably heard mutterings of “3 to 1” or “4 to 1” ratios in the locker-room, here’s the 411 on how the perfect ratio of carbs-to-protein can help to speed muscle recovery after your workout.
Replenish Muscle Glycogen
Instead of reaching right for protein after a workout, take a second to replenish your muscle glycogen. Muscle glycogen is glucose stored in your muscles. Since your body needs glucose to fuel activity, after you’ve depleted your blood sugar (2 minutes)Bernardot, D. (2012). Advanced Sports Nutrition. Human Kinetics. 2nd ed. and sugar stored in your liver (16 minutes)1 you body has to start pulling sugar from your muscles. Your level of training and the amount of carbohydrates in your diet dictates how long this muscle glycogen will provide fuel. Draining your muscle glycogen is commonly referred to as “hitting the wall.” Even if you don’t completely deplete your muscle glycogen, it needs to be replenished in order to fuel the next workout.
A Ratio to Remember
After exercise is when your body is primed to uptake carbohydrates to top off the tanks of your muscle glycogen. Research shows that the most effective way to replenish glycogen workout is by consuming a 3 to 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein after the workout.Kerksick et al. (2008). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient Timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 5(17). Accessed 5/20/13 from http://www.jissn.com/content/5/1/17 Not just any carbohydrate will do. Now, similar to right before a workout, simple carbohydrates are quickly absorbed into your blood stream. Hold your vegetables and whole grains for the next meal—right now you want fruit and sugars, with minimal fiber and plenty of carbs.
Little Protein Goes a Long Way
While the main focus immediately post-exercise is carbohydrates, adding in a little bit of protein help to enhance the update of glucose into your muscle cells. Eating more protein immediately won’t help, and in fact can slow down the replenishment of muscle glycogen. Combining a simple carbohydrate with a handful of nuts and seeds is an easy way to get a bit of protein right away.
We offer our own, plant-based option for muscle recovery. Vega Sport® Recovery helps replenish glycogen stores with premium carbohydrates, electrolytes, and B vitamins. This game changer will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to conquer your next workout with an extra spring in your step. Want more? Check out Thrive Forward: The Importance of Recovery for Athletes. thriveforward.com