Nutrient Timing

Nutrient Timing

Christopher R. Mohr, PhD, RD, CSSD

[spacer size=”20″] dr mohrTraining is necessary for optimal performance.

Timing your nutrient intake during the recovery period will enhance performance even more and allow an athlete to be the best they can be. Often called “Nutrient Timing” in the sports nutrition world, it is quickly becoming one of the hottest and most research areas.

The recommendations below will allow athletes to head out to the next practice, game, or gym full of energy and ready to play or train again!

Nutrient Timing

Imagine muscles as a sponge. When a sponge is soaking wet, it cannot hold any more water. This wet sponge is like muscles that are well fueled before a workout. They are full of stored carbohydrate called glycogen. During training, glycogen will be used for energy. Imagine this as if wringing out the sponge. When a sponge is dry, like muscles after a workout, it can then take up the most amount of water (or, in the case of muscles, glycogen). This will prepare the muscles for the next bout of training, whether it’s practice, a game, or tournament. Therefore, this timing, immediately after a workout, is necessary to “prime” the muscles for optimal performance.

The Most Important Meal of the Day

Eating after a workout is arguably the most important meal of the day and is one of the best ways to take the “post-workout blues” head on! In fact, this time is often referred to as “the window of opportunity”– this “window” last from 30-60 minutes. This is the best time to refuel working muscles so they can absorb the most nutrients, namely carbohydrates and protein.

Recovering from an exercise bout is impossible without replenishing both food and liquid to restore what was lost during exercise. It is important to eat the proper nutrients to refuel muscles and plenty of fluids to replace what was lost in sweat.

Let’s Explore the Details

The Importance of Carbohydrates

When working out, no matter what the activity, athletes will deplete a good portion of their muscle glycogen (again, the body’s storage form of carbohydrate), some protein, and, depending on the length of training, possibly some fat. During exercise, muscle glycogen is the body’s primary fuel source and needs to be replenished. The primary objective of eating carbohydrates is to replenish these glycogen stores. This is one of the few times to encourage simple carbohydrates; muscles can take up these nutrients more quickly, without being slowed by the amount of fiber. This can come from solid foods or liquid sources. We’ll show several examples of each.

Protein is Crucial Too

Aside from foods that are high in carbohydrates, eating some protein is necessary too. Protein should make up about ½ – ¼ of the total amount of carbohydrates eaten, carbohydrates, protein can come from solid foods and/or beverages, as long as it is low in fat, as fat will slow the absorption of the much needed nutrients.

Rehydrating the Body

Just as eating carbohydrate and protein is important to recovery, so is replenishing the body with fluids. During exercise, athletes lose fluids through sweat. Refueling the body with fluids can help reduce prevent dehydration, which would otherwise cause fatigue and could lead to injury. 

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Fuel Tips

  • Eat within 30-60 minutes after exercise—
    the sooner, the better.
  • Focus on carbohydrates.
  • Include some protein
  • Remember fluid intake—20 oz. for every 1 lb. lost.
  • Eat again within 1-2 hours after the initial “refueling.”
  • Post-game: athletes should immediately drink at least a half-liter (approximately 2 cups) (aim for 2 – 2½ cups for every 1 lb. lost) of non-caffeinated or non-alcoholic fluid.
  • Continue to drink fluids throughout the day.
  • Urine should look like pale lemonade.

Proper Meal Timing

Athletes should eat their recovery food(s) as soon as possible after exercise or competition, and should wait no longer than 1 hour. This is the most critical period for the replenishment of muscle glycogen.

It is common for athletes to have a decreased appetite after training; however, if optimal performance is the goal, lack of appetite can’t stop you from consuming something. It is typically easier to consume liquid as opposed to solid food if you feel full after a workout, so “liquid food” again comes out on top to assist in the recovery process. Here are some practical fuel options.

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Practical Fuel Strategies
Recovery Meal Ideas

  • Drink 1-2 cups low-fat chocolate, vanilla or strawberry milk
  • Eat a bowl of cereal with low-fat or fat-free milk and fruit
  • Enjoy a yogurt with fresh fruit
  • Turkey or chicken breast sandwich
  • Steamed rice with chicken and stir-fried vegetables
  • Pasta with chicken, red meat, seafood and red sauce, spinach