For effective replenishment and recovery after exercise it is important to properly distribute the intake of macronutrients, in particular protein, over the day. However, what about the timing and amount of nutrients before, during and after exercise? Tips for athletes.
- Do not skip meals or snacks before exercise. This can result in early muscular fatigue due to a reduced supply of glycogen to exercising muscles.
- Also avoid exercising with a full stomach. Allow two hours after eating a full meal before exercise as there is a need for increased blood flow to the gut to supply oxygen and energy for digestion. Oxygen and energy are also required during exercise, and so this results in a situation whereby both processes are competing for blood flow and gastro-intestinal distress may occur.
- Drink 5-10 ml water or sports drink per kilogram body weight 2 to 4 hours before exercise. This allows enough time to optimise hydration status before exercise and to pass any excess fluid via the urine. (1)
- If eating before exercise is unavoidable, try not to have a heavy meal and go for something lighter instead such as a filled sandwich and some fruit. Avoid foods such as meat, potatoes, pasta, oily fish, egg, vegetables or legumes. Be careful with spicy food and avoid ice-cold and carbonated drinks. These foods may trigger gastro-intestinal disturbances when consumed close to exercising. This also sometimes holds true for milk products.
- Ideally choose something to eat just before exercise that is easily digested and provides energy in a readily available form, such as a currant bun or a banana (1-2) or a sports drink with carbohydrate 5 minutes before the start. (3)
- Drink water during exercise to replenish fluid losses. Begin drinking sooner rather than later as when you feel thirsty you are already becoming dehydrated.
- For more intense exercise lasting longer than 1 hour choose a sports drink with carbohydrate as it is important to maintain the glycogen supply in muscles during exercise. Such drinks are not suitable for weight loss as sports drinks contain sugar and provide additional calories. Choose water instead. (4-8)
- As individuals are different in the way in which (food and) drink can be tolerated during exercise, it is wise to experiment with this during training sessions and try to find out what works best.
After exercise (recovery phase)
- The first 2 hours after exercise are crucial as the body is most receptive for recovery and replenishment of muscles glycogen stores (4). Rapid rehydration can be achieved by drinking 1.2-1.5 litre fluid for every kg body weight lost during exercise. Drinking sports drinks and eating a salty meal or snack replenishes the loss of electrolytes. (4)
- For more rapid replenishment of glycogen, carbohydrate can be taken up to 2 hours after exercise. To optimise glycogen stores immediately following exercise 1,2 grams carbohydrates/kg/hour is advised for endurance athletes. This can be decreased to 0.8 gram carbohydrates/ kg/hour when protein is taken in as well (0.2-0.4 gram protein/kg/hour). (4)
- Scientific research shows that for optimum support of the muscles 20 grams protein should be taken after exercise, particularly after resistance training. It is best to consume this quantity of protein within 30 minutes to 2 hours after exercise when the muscles are most receptive to recovery and the body can make optimum use of the protein. This holds true for both endurance and strength training. (1-2,5, 9-11)
- Therefore preferably plan meals (breakfast, lunch or dinner) after exercise so the body can then immediately replenish the energy, macronutrients and micronutrients that have been used during exercise.
- No time for a meal? Then take a protein-rich snack as soon as possible after exercise, for example a bowl of quark or a protein shake, in order to stimulate protein synthesis.
- The body needs energy and nutrients for growth, development and recovery during the night as well. Just before going to sleep is a perfect time for a ‘20 grams portion’ of protein. So avoid the dessert after your evening meal (a main meal usually contains more than enough protein) and instead go for a good bowl of yoghurt or quark just before going to sleep.
- American College of Sports Medicine, American Dietetic Association, and Dietitians of Canada. Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise. 2009;41:709-731. [also published in Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009;109:509-527]
- IAAF Athletics (2013). Nutrition for athletics. A practical guide to eating and drinking for health and performance in track and field. Updated May 2013.
- Loon van L.C.J. (2013). The human engine. www.kenniscentrumsuiker.nl
- Beelen, M., Burke, L.M., Gibala, M.J., and van Loon, L. J.C. (2010). Nutritional strategies to promote postexercise recovery. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2010;20(6):515-32.
- Beelen et al (2015).
- IAAF Athletics (2013). Nutrition for athletics. A practical guide to eating and drinking for health and performance in track and field. Updated May 2013. International Olympic Committee (2010). Consensus Statement on Sports Nutrition 2010. http:// www.Olympic.org/Documents/Reports/EN/CONSENSUS-FINALV8- en.pdf. Accessed November 6, 2011.
- Jeukendrup A. (2014). A Step Towards Personalized Sports Nutrition: Carbohydrate Intake During Exercise. Sports Medicine. 2014;44 (Suppl 1):S25–S33. doi 10.1007/s40279-014-0148-z.
- Stellingwerff T., Cox G.R. (2014). Systematic review: Carbohydrate supplementation on exercise performance or capacity of varying durations. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2014,39(9):998-1011.
- Phillips S.M. (2012). Dietary protein requirements and adaptive advantages in athletes. British Journal of Nutrition. 2012;108:S158-S167. doi:10.1017/S0007114512002516.
- Areta J.L., Burke L.M., Ross M.L, Camera D.M., West D.W., Jeacocke N.A., Moore D.R., Stellingwerff t., Phillips S.M., Hawley J.A., Coffey V.G. (2013). Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. The Journal of Physiology. 2013;591(Pt 9):2319-31.
- Moore D.R., Robinson M.J., Fry J.L., Tang J.E., Glover E.I., Wilkinson S.B., Prior T., Tarnopolsky M.A., Phillips S.M. (2009). Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009;89:161-168.