That post-workout meal that you choose actually has a much larger effect on how your muscles recover – thank you might think. And choosing the right post-sweat snack can help reduce that pain from Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness that you feel as you climb out of bed the next morning.
But how exactly does that work? And how do you actually choose a meal that might make those muscle aches and pains subside? Well, we have the answers, so you finally know how and what you should be fuelling up on after your sweat sesh.
But first, we need to school you on the science of muscle recovery. And here to teach you, is Candice De Mendonca, a South African sports nutritionist and personal trainer.
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What *is* recovery?
Recovery is a metabolic process that ideally wants to return the body to homeostasis. This is achieved post-training, and post-workout is where anabolic growth happens in our bodies. “Anabolic growth happens at rest, this word rest is very important as there is a common misconception that growth happens whilst training,” explains Candice.
When you’re in anabolic state, you’re building muscle mass. And when you exercise, you’re in a catabolic state which is when you’re breaking down both fat and muscle.
So you can see why gym bros rush home to down their protein powders after their leg day; they are trying to optimise the amount of anabolic growth, or muscle building that happens. Because when you understand these processes and your overall metabolism, you may be able to manipulate your body weight.
That’s also why recovery and rest is so vital to helping you achieve your goals. “Too little rest and your body becomes catabolic, breaking down muscle tissue,” sports therapist Barry Sigrist previously told Women’s Health. But there are many other elements to recovery, too.
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“Recovery is multi-faceted with much-needed elements of rest, refuelling through nutrition, rehydration, regeneration (repair), resynthesis, reduction of inflammation and restoration,” says De Mendonca. “This ideally equals homeostasis in our bodies.”
But right now we’re focusing on something that often gets overlooked; how to get that post-workout nutrition spot on.
How does nutrition play a role in muscle recovery?
It’s all about macronutrients. Macronutrients are the nutrients that your body uses large amounts of. There are three types of macronutirents; proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
“It is imperative that our bodies get these nutrients in for energy and to maintain our body’s structure and metabolic systems,” says Candice. “This is why we mustn’t cut out any macronutrients. Moderation and balance are key.”
If you’re more of a visual person, this is what Candice means:
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So which macronutrients matter most after you’ve done a workout?
“When it comes to recovery post-workout, protein and carbohydrates work in our bodies like a lock and key system,” says Candice.
The protein provides the muscles with what they need to repair, regenerate and grow by means of protein synthesis (that’s the metabolic process in which amino acids enter the muscle to bind to skeletal muscle proteins). And carbohydrates provide your muscles with what they need to refuel and store by replacing electrolytes and storing glycogen in your muscles and liver.
In a 2007 paper from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, researchers found that ingesting carbohydrates with protein following exercise increases growth hormone levels to a greater extent than when compared to ingesting protein alone. The researchers stated that this led to a more favourable anabolic environment. for growth and recovery. So that’s why digging into a single chicken breast post-workout might not be the best idea, carbs are your friend here.
But what about the third macronutrient; fats? Well, there is no scientific evidence that proves fats help right before you exercise or straight after. That’s because fats take too long to digest and break down to provide quick fuel and quick recovery.
How long after your workout should you eat?
When you exercise, blood is quickly transported to the necessary muscle groups you are using to supply energy and nutrients.
This is actually where the infamous “pump” comes from and this pump will last about two hours, making it an ideal time frame to get a post-workout meal in, advises Candice. Or, you know, to get that perfect post-workout mirror selfie in.
So, for 30 minutes to two hours after your workout, you want to try and get in a protein and carbohydrate only.
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What is the perfect recovery ratio to look for in a post-workout meal?
There is no cut and paste to nutrition. However, there are general rules of thumb you can follow, especially if you don’t have access to a dietician or sports nutritionist. And you can apply this logic to your post-workout nutrition.
The physiologically perfect recovery ratio is 3:1 (carbs to protein).
“Everyone is different and there is no cut and paste to eating. Your vehicle and fuel requirements are different to mine,” explains Candice. “The ratio range one can use can safely be between 2:1 and 4:1 depending on your physical activity, intensity, duration and goals.”
“For example, a runner would use a 2:1 ratio but a rugby player would use a 4:1 ratio.”
“A post-workout meal with protein and carbs will enhance glycogen storage and muscle protein synthesis. Consuming a ratio of 3:1 (carbs to protein) is a pragmatic way to achieve this.”
How can you put this into practice?
“Plan your nutrition because that is already 80% of the battle won, 15% is your physical activity and 5% is your genetics;” says Candice. “You can exercise till you are quite blue in the face but if you’re not eating right your results will be minimal and not optimal.”
Luckily, there is a very tasty way to get the nutrients you need after you’ve closed your workout ring at gym. Research has shown that drinking low-fat chocolate milk after a workout aids in post-workout recovery and muscle protein synthesis.
We know, right? Chocolate milk!
One great option is First Choice High Protein Recovery Milk. It has a ratio of 2:1 with 22g of protein and 22g carbohydrates with added grams from sucrose and lactose bringing the total carbs to 41.3g.
Plus, major soccer clubs like Cape Town City Football Club and Amazulu use it as part of their nutrition and condition plans. And they recently won best new product in the Non-Alcoholic Beverages category of the 2020/21 FOOD REVIEW/Symrise New Product Competition. So you know it’s legit.
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But what does our sports nutritionist and personal trainer say? “HPR makes it extremely easy, rewarding, and delicious to get protein in. Especially post-workout, it’s premixed, no mess, no fuss, and extremely delicious,” says Candice.
Some other snacks from Candice that you could try are: 1 banana and 2 boiled eggs (12g protein: 31g carbs), 2 slices wholegrain toast and 1.5 tablespoons peanut butter (12g protein: 32g carbs) or 120g quinoa and 60g chicken (17g protein: 55g carbs).