eat right during the metabolic window

WHAT you eat and WHEN you eat have a huge impact on recovery. By focusing on nutrient timing you can maximize the previous workout’s effect and get yourself ready to have a great workout tomorrow.

What a great morning!  You got up early, had a strong long run, and finished in time to shuttle the kids to the game.   Rather than sitting down to eat, you opted for a swig of Gatorade and banana, with plans to eat lunch after the game.  The next day on your long bike ride, your legs were heavy, and you struggled through it.  Sound familiar?


The Science of Recovery

Hard workouts stress the body and break down body glycogen, fat, and protein.  During exercise, these processes must occur to fuel your training.  But after a hard workout, this breakdown continues which has adverse effects on your muscle fibers and fuel.  To ‘turn off” the hormones that are causing this breakdown, an athlete must choose the appropriate recovery nutrition within the right time frame.  Skipping or not consuming adequate food after strenuous exercise can impair your performance for future workouts, and even impair your immune system.

Emerging research has shown that 30-60 minutes after strenuous exercise, muscles are more able to absorb nutrition.  A general recommendation is to consume 4 grams of carbohydrate for every 1 gram of protein after endurance exercise.  By eating during this ‘metabolic window’, the body can turn off the breakdown processes that were essential to fuel the exercise. It can then focus on repair and replenishment.  Ideally, an athlete will repeat the nutritional amounts 2 hours later to further replenish stores.


So how much and what do I eat?

Some practical guidelines for post-exercise recovery:

A general guideline to follow : 30-60 minutes post workout, eat 1/2 gram carbohydrate per pound of body weight and 10-20 grams of protein.  For a 160 pound man, this  would be 80 grams of carbohydrate and 15-20 grams of protein.

Foods that would match this nutrition prescription include:

  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with 1 cup Gatorade
  • Greek yogurt and 1/4 cup granola
  • Energy bar and Gatorade
  • Make up a recovery shake and put it in a thermos.  My husband’s favorite recipe is 8 ounces of Boost, 8 ounces of soy milk, and a banana.
  • After moderate to hard training, repeat the above nutrient amounts 2 hours later.
  • If your appetite is suppressed after training, focus on liquid sources of nutrition, smoothies, and sports shakes.
  • Avoid high fiber foods after training.  They may not be well tolerated and may not result in the fastest recovery.
  • Avoid overdoing it on protein after endurance training.  The above guidelines are a starting point and typically provide sufficient amounts for muscle repair.

So plan ahead, and budget some time for adequate post workout fuel.  Use the ‘metabolic window’ to help keep you fueled for future training sessions.