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TSN Running Science: Refuel: Hydrating and eating for better recovery

Published on December, 20th 2013
By Dr. Greg Wells

Research has found that hydration and nutrition are 2 key techniques  you can use between workouts that will help you to recover faster. By  understanding and applying the science of refuelling, you can ensure  that you give your body the help it needs to rebuild its energy supplies  quickly between workouts. This is the key to becoming “the 24 hour  athlete.”


Recovery and Refuelling

The essential idea that every 24 hour athlete needs to embrace is  that your attention and effort do not end when your workout is over.  Because the refuelling process is so important to helping you recover  from and prepare for your running training, there are several things you  can do after your workout to help you improve. Remember, fitness and  training are a way of life – not just something you do when your  stopwatch is running.

Once your workout is finished, it is  essential to rehydrate and refuel right away. Without sufficient fluids,  your body’s processes won’t work properly. For every kilogram of weight  that you lose during exercise, it is recommended that you drink one  litre of water. Done properly, refueling will replenish your glycogen  stores, improve your overall ability to store energy, reduce muscle  soreness and fatigue, and increase your body’s ability to repair  muscles.1 If you eat within 30 minutes of your workout, you can  capitalize on a temporary increase in your body’s ability to absorb  nutrients like glucose and protein, which will improve your performance  the next time you workout. The ideal snack will have a balance of  protein and carbohydrate. After endurance training, look for foods that  have a ratio of 4g of carbs for every 1g of protein (examples are listed  at the end of the article). After a strength, speed or interval  workout, decrease the ratio to 2g of carbs for every 1g of protein.

The details

Exercise training takes energy supplied through the breakdown of  carbohydrates and fats. During most types of training, our muscles are  placed under tremendous stress, which stimulates the body to rebuild  itself. Most structures in the body are made of proteins. Research  clearly shows that refueling the body immediately after exercise with  carbohydrates and proteins speeds the replenishment of energy stores and  protein synthesis and reduces muscle inflammation and soreness.  Carbohydrates are critical for replenishing muscle glycogen stores, and  proteins are crucial for initiating muscle and other soft-tissues  repair. The question is, how much of each should you consume? In part,  the answer depends on the type of exercise you performed. Endurance  athletes such as cyclists, triathletes, runners and swimmers exercise  longer at sustained intensities. This type of work depletes muscle  glycogen, so replenishing it is a priority. Without enough glycogen they  can’t work at high intensities, or they?may run out of fuel in their  next training?session. Therefore, for endurance athletes?we recommend  consuming a light snack with a ratio of 4 carbohydrates to 1 protein.

Strength training or speed work that requires greater demands on  muscles produce micro- tears in the muscle and soft tissues such as  tendons or capillary beds. For any exercise that makes your muscles  sore, protein synthesis is therefore crucial to repair these tissues. In  this case, the ratios change, and a higher protein content is  warranted. We recommend about 2:1 carbohydrates to proteins after a  strength-type workout. As little as 6 to 10 grams of protein accelerate  protein synthesis in the muscles following exercise, but you can  calculate your approximate protein requirement based on your body  weight. In general, sedentary people need about 0.8 grams of protein per  kilogram of body weight, and active people need much more – about 1.6  to 1.8 grams per kilogram. Regular foods (e.g., chicken, beef, fish,  beans and legumes, and eggs) can provide the necessary amino acids, and  some protein powders are acceptable and convenient options.

Improve Your Performance

Here are some keys to using refuelling to become a 24 hour athlete:

– Cool down for 10-15 minutes after you work out

– Always have appropriate food on hand so you can refuel within 30 minutes

– Make sure your post workout food has the proper ratio of protein and carbohydrates

– Take in 1 litre of water for every kilogram of weight loss during a workout

Post-Exercise Snack Ideas

Recovery drink mix (4:1 carbs to protein for endurance workouts, 2:1 for strength workouts)

Greek yogurt + fruit/berries + granola

Chocolate, vanilla almond or brown rice milk + protein powder?

Organic trail mix (unsulphured dried fruit and raw nuts/seeds)?

Cottage cheese

One or two high-quality snack bars?

Brown rice cake(s) + jam + natural nut butter (e.g., almond, cashew, peanut)?

An egg- salad sandwich (preferably on whole-grain bread)

Source: Trionne Moore, BA RHN,


1 Flakoll et al., Postexercise protein supplementation improves  health and muscle soreness during basic military training in Marine  recruits. J Appl Physiol 2004;96:951-956.