When it comes to exercising, many of us focus solely on what we’re doing in the session without thinking too much about what we do afterwards. However, our nutrition and activity choices post-workout can be just as important as what we do during.
Allowing our bodies to recover is essential for progress. So, whether you’re trying to build muscle or work towards an endurance goal, educating yourself on what you should be doing – and when – is a key part of your fitness journey.
This article will explain the reasons why it matters what you do after a workout session, what foods and drinks are best to eat and when this needs to happen.
So Firstly, Why Is Post-Workout Recovery So Important?
When we workout – either in the gym, or when doing an intense sport – there are two key things that happen. Firstly, we use fuel, specifically our stores of glycogen (a form of glucose that gives us energy). Secondly, we damage tissues in our muscles as part of the ‘tear and repair’ process to build more muscle.
After the workout, our bodies will try to replace the glycogen stores and also rebuild its protein to repair the muscles. However, if we’re not giving it any new nutrients in which to use, this process will obviously take much longer and be ineffective. If you want to help your body recover more quickly, and make the work done in your session more effective, then giving it the nutrients it needs is very important.
The three main things we’re trying to achieve with our post-workout nutrition and activity are:
- Refilling our energy stores
- Repairing any micro damage done to our muscles
- Helping our muscles to grow
It’s worth noting that not every type of exercise requires this level of ‘re-fuelling’. Low-intensity activity such as walking or gentle jogging will likely not deplete your energy sources or cause the tears in your muscles, and therefore you can usually go about your day as normal after these activities. On the other hand, weight-lifting, HIIT workouts and longer endurance training (for example long runs lasting more than 45 minutes) will all likely need a period of recovery and specific nutrients.
As mentioned, one of the key things to think about after your workout session is what you eat – and how quickly. The two main micronutrients that you should focus on in your post-workout phase are carbohydrates and proteins.
Carbs are essential as they’re our main source of glycogen, which we need to increase our levels of post-workout. Protein is important as this is how we rebuild our muscles, repairing the damage done in the workout and creating the building block for new, leaner muscle.
Many nutritionists recommend consuming a meal post-workout that has a 3:1 carbs to protein ratio. An example of this would be 90 grams of carb and 30 grams of protein, or a few cups of rice and a chicken breast.
Good sources of carbs following a workout include: pasta, rice, quinoa, sweet potato, leafy greens and oats. Good protein choices include chicken, fish, eggs, cottage cheese and Greek yoghurt. For something easier that can be consumed on-the-go, protein bars are also a popular choice.
It’s recommended that this food is consumed within 45 minutes of the workout for it to have the maximum benefits on our bodies. In fact, research has shown that if you don’t eat any carbs until more than two hours after your workout, your glycogen synthesis could be reduced by as much as 50%.
However, this can present a problem for a lot of people. After a heavy workout, many of us don’t feel hungry or ready for a hearty meal of carbs and protein. In addition to this, we may not have the time to prep and eat a sizable meal within this timeframe, especially if we have other things to do after the gym, or our gym is a distance away from home.
Because of this, many people instead rely on taking supplements during or immediately after a workout to replenish our stores quickly. This means the right nutrients are getting into our bodies, but in a way that’s easier to consume. The main meal then can come a little later, around 1-2 hours post-workout.
If you struggle to get your post-workout meal in the timeframe suggested, then supplements are ideal.
The main supplements that people turn to after an exhausting session are:
- Protein supplements – usually taken as a shake, protein is essential for repairing our muscles
- Glutamine – this amino acid contributes to muscle maintenance, and so restoring the levels of glutamine in your body after a work-out is thought to reduce the risk of losing muscle mass after intensive workouts. This can often come in capsule form or a powder to make into a drink, like protein
- BCAAs – often taken as a powder (which can also commonly contain glutamine as well), Branched-Chain Amino Acids are thought to help with the recovery process and also lessen the chance of muscle soreness. As this can be one of the main obstacles that prevents people from getting back to the gym as quickly as they would like, this can be an important part of post-recovery nutrition for many of us
Another important thing to consider in the post-workout phase is fluids. During exercise, we naturally lose a lot of both water and electrolytes while we sweat, and so replenishing these is key. A sports drink such as our Endo Sport Orange provides optimal hydration whether taking during or after a gym session, and also helps to replenish electrolytes.
Another key ingredient that this drink offers is CBD, or cannabidiol. While research into CBD and post-workout recovery remains in its infancy, many athletes (including these famous faces) are already advocating the supplement for its ability to:
- Manage pain post-workout
- Aid in sleep, which is vital for recovery
- Have an anti-inflammatory effect
By getting into a good routine with our post-workout nutrition, we’re able to recover more quickly and ensure the nutrients we need are getting into our bodies with plenty of time. In turn, this helps to drive faster progression in the gym, cutting down the amount of time that we need to spend on rest days. For more information on nutrition and the gym, explore our article on weight-training supplements or CBD and recovery in particular.