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What to eat after exercise

Updated: May 7, 2022

We know that what we eat before training can have an impact on our ability to train and our performance but what about the foods we eat after training, do they matter? The simple answer is yes! Nutrition post exercise is just as important as nutrition pre-exercise. Here we will explain why the foods we eat after training are important and introduce you to the three Rs of post exercise nutrition : Replenish , Repair and Rehydrate.

Three Rs of post exercise nutrition: Replenish, Repair and Rehydrate.

Why is post exercise nutrition important?

After exercising our muscle glycogen stores are depleted and muscle proteins are repaired and synthesised. Glycogen is the energy supply for the muscles. This is required for normal muscle functioning and so must be replenished, the first R! There is a simple strategy to replenish our muscle stores, eat carbohydrates. This will prevent the breakdown of muscle proteins as an energy source which should be avoided because it will interfere with muscle recovery after exercise. Consuming a quick release carbohydrate,

one which is rapidly digested, will provide the muscle with additional glucose to replenish the depleted glycogen stores. 1g/kg carbohydrate is recommended which means that for example, a 65kg woman should consume 65g of carbohydrate after exercising. This level of carbohydrate intake will replenish muscle glycogen stores and prevent further protein breakdown.

So now we know that to replenish our muscles we need carbohydrates but what about the second R, repair? Eating protein after exercising will help our muscles to build and repair. This is because our muscles are built of amino acids which are the small components which make up a protein. Providing our bodies with these building blocks will increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis and allow for improved muscle repair after training. Muscle synthesis begins immediately following exercise but will continue for up to 24 hours after training. This means that the amount of protein we consume after exercising is important but also the quantity and quality of protein we eat for the following 24hours. You should aim to eat 20g of protein after exercising to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

We need to replenish, repair, and the final R of post exercise nutrition, rehydrate. Sweating during exercise can lead to a decrease in body water and electrolytes. An imbalance of water and electrolytes can lead to fatigue, cramping and nausea. We can easily avoid this by ensuring we drink sufficient fluids after exercising. This is particularly important after high intensity exercise sessions when you have been sweating a lot. Drinks like water and milk will help you to rehydrate. However, if you have been sweating heavily having an electrolyte drink could be helpful to regain an appropriate hydration status.

Okay, we now know that we need to Replenish, Repair, and Rehydrate but when and how should we do this?

Aiming to eat 30-60 minutes after exercise will enhance muscle recovery. Here are some meal and snack ideas which you can eat after training to repair and replenish your muscles:

v Smoothie with yogurt or protein powder

v Greek yogurt with fruit

v Protein bar with fruit

v Overnight oats with milk and yogurt

v Nuts and fruit

v Wholegrain crackers and nut butter

v Chocolate milk

v Bagel and nut butter

v Eggs on toast

v Toast, avocado and fruit

v Salmon and potatoes

v Tofu stir-fry and rice

v Chicken and pasta

These meals and snacks provide both protein and carbohydrate sources which will enhance your recovery particularly if eaten 30-60 minutes after exercising. You should continue to eat protein and carbohydrate sources throughout the day after exercising, especially if you will be training for a second time that day to enhance your recovery and prepare your muscles for subsequent exercise sessions.

So, the next time you finish training think of the three Rs – replenish, repair, and rehydrate. For more information and to get individual tailored advice for you, speak to a Registered Dietitian? Book now with our sports dietitian.

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