Whenever and however you exercise, it’s important to replenish and recharge your body after you’re done. Whether you are an avid athlete training twice a day or just try to do long hikes on the weekends, improper nutrition can cause poor performance and fatigue. Learning what your body needs to recover can take some time, but doing so will allow you to enjoy your hobby more and, ultimately, help you feel at your best. This is known as recovery nutrition.
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Heather Pierce says, when it comes to recovery nutrition, the important points to remember are refueling, rebuilding and rehydrating. “When you’re looking to refuel, you’re going to want to look to carbohydrates,” Pierce said. “After a hard or long workout, glycogen can be depleted. Glycogen is how our bodies store carbs for energy. You’ll want to have something as soon as you can – ideally 15 minutes to an hour after the training so your body can start replenishing glycogen for the next event. The amount of carbs to have depends on how hard or long you’ve exercised. Typically 0.8-1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight is recommended. For example, that would break down to roughly 72 grams for a person weighting 200 pounds. So, go on the low end for lighter workouts and higher for more intense training,” she explained.
“For casual exercise that is less than one hour, numbers are not that stringent. A simple snack such as a piece of fruit will do – or you can just plan on having a meal soon after to recover properly,” Pierce said. “Just remember that even if you are trying to lose weight, you deserve to eat on a regular basis. We’ve seen some people who try very hard in the gym, but are not fueling properly, which is a recipe for failure long term. The bottom line is the more you exercise, the more carbs you need to eat because that is your fuel,” she added.
Pierce adds that, for rebuilding, protein is your friend. “Protein is needed to repair damaged muscle tissues and promote growth of new tissue,” she said. “Ideally, it’s good to combine carbs and protein at a two-to-one ratio to get the most benefit. The beverage that fits this ratio naturally and inexpensively is chocolate milk. For those wanting more specific protein grams for a post-event recovery meal or snack, 0.3-0.4 grams per kilogram of body weight is recommended, which is roughly 27-36 grams for a 200-pound person. Many use a protein shake because it’s a very convenient option and our appetites generally can be lower after intense exercise. Some simple protein options include Greek yogurt with fruit and cereal, or a turkey sandwich with 20 ounces of juice or sports drink,” she explained.
And those drinks are essential. “When it comes to meeting our daily hydration needs, typically we need to consume about half of our body weight in ounces. So, a 150-pound person would need 75 ounces per day,” Pierce said. “It also is important to start the event or activity well hydrated. When thinking about rehydrating after exercising, it helps to weigh yourself before and after you work out. You’ll need 20 ounces of water or drink for every pound lost during the activity. After a long hike or bike ride, be sure to have a cooler in the car with water, 100 percent fruit juice or sports drinks. Also, be aware that some factors increase the amount of fluids lost, such as high altitude, hot weather, clothing choice and how heavily you tend to sweat,” she added.
“If the exercise or activity lasts longer than an hour, that’s when you need to think about electrolyte replacement,” Pierce said. “A pound of sweat contains 400-700 milligrams of sodium and 80-100 milligrams of potassium. For many people, these can easily be replaced with a well-balanced meal. For those who sweat excessively, have noticeable sweat buildup on their clothing, are prone to cramping or exercise for more than an hour, electrolyte replacement may be necessary. That’s when sports drinks and salty snacks are good to have on hand,” she added.