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 you’re just doing 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, time is a factor. “To practice recovery nutrition, the window is between 15 minutes to two hours after you exercise,” she said. “During this time, you’ll want to eat a snack or small meal that’s rich in protein and some carbohydrates. Aim for closer to the 15- to 30-minute side if you’ve been doing more intense exercise or exercising for long durations. Doing so will aid in replacing muscle glycogen – the way our muscles store carbohydrate for energy – for your next session,” Pierce explained. “Carbohydrate needs vary from person to person. For endurance exercise lasting more than an hour, you typically need more carbohydrate. However, I don’t think it takes quite as much as we once thought, especially if weight loss is a goal. A registered dietitian can help guide you on your individual needs and provide ideas,” she said. “Don’t use exercise as permission to indulge in your favorite high carbohydrate foods, especially if you are trying to lose weight or control blood sugar,” she added.
Protein also is important in recovery nutrition. “Protein helps to repair damaged muscle tissues and promotes growth of new tissue,” Pierce said. “Just like with carbohydrate, though, our need for protein varies from person to person. For practical purposes, I would suggest combining some carbohydrate with protein. I like to encourage more whole foods when possible, such as a fruit with cheese or Greek yogurt with nuts, but sometimes protein bars or protein shakes are convenient alternatives. If you’re close to a meal time, salmon with a sweet potato and broccoli, or chicken and veggies on the grill are simple choices,” she explained. “Often, the window of opportunity for recovery nutrition is missed due to a reduction in appetite experienced by intense exercisers. In that case, you can use a liquid replacement with protein and carbohydrates, which can be something as simple as chocolate milk, which has been used for years for this reason. Of course, sports drink companies offer products with a similar composition as well,” she added.
Lastly, Pierce says, don’t forget to hydrate. “Typically, we need to consume about half of our body weight in ounces to meet our daily hydration needs. A 150-pound person, for instance, would need 75 ounces per day,” Pierce said. “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 said. “Also, remember to take your own water bottle with you when you head out to the gym, as most have closed their water fountains during pandemic,” she added.
“If the exercise or activity lasts longer than an hour, that’s when you need to think about electrolyte replacement,” Pierce continued. “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.