It’s easy to assume the reps you perform in the weight room or the sweat you shed on the field directly correlate to bigger muscles and more strength. But in reality, this conditioning breaks your muscles down one tiny rip at a time. It isn’t until after the workout, when your heart rate has returned to normal and your muscles finally rest, that the real growth can begin. We turned to Lauren Link, a registered dietitian who oversees sports nutrition for Purdue University athletics, to guide us along the crucial post-workout road to recovery.
The three R’s:
As a rule of thumb, Link tells her athletes to drink 16-24 ounces, or 2-3 cups, of fluid for every pound they lost in their workout. If the athlete tends to sweat heavily, it could be a good idea to sip a sports drink before, during and after workouts in addition to water to aid with electrolyte loss.
Her pick: Chocolate milk
While it’s not the kind of drink you’ll want to chug midpractice, chocolate milk is a nutritious option to kick-start your recovery. Why chocolate? “The sugars are carbohydrates that your body can use,” Link explains. Additionally, chocolate milk contains protein, providing the carb-protein pairing that is ideal for recovery.
Repair and …
Protein is an essential part of the recovery process because it helps repair and build the muscles that were broken down during the workout. Athletes should strive to get at least 20 grams for a post-workout snack or meal. But they also should keep in mind that protein alone won’t build muscles – you need enough calories, too.
During a long, intense workout, athletes deplete their stores of carbohydrates, the body’s main source of energy. It’s important to replenish these stores as soon after the workout as possible – ideally within 30 to 45 minutes of exercising. “During this window, the body is best able to replenish the glycogen stores and rebuild muscle,” Link says.
Dietitians such as Link recommend at least a 2-to-1 carb-protein ratio for recovery. Depending on the individual and his or her goals, the ratio may be increased to 3-to-1 or 4-to-1.
Her picks: Carbs and protein
Bagel and peanut butter; cereal and milk; sandwich with lunch meat; fruit and yogurt