I talk with too many athletes who are confused about how to best recover after they exercise. Many are obsessed with rapid refueling immediately after they stop exercising. Here are a few tips to clarify the confusion.
First of all, rapid refueling is most important for athletes who will be doing a second bout of intense, depleting exercise within six hours of the first bout. You want to rapidly refuel if you are, let’s say, a triathlete who does double workouts or a soccer player in a tournament. Your muscles are most receptive to refueling within the first hour after a hard workout, so the sooner you refuel, the sooner you'll be ready to roll again.
If you have a full 24 hours to recover before your next training session, or if you are a fitness exerciser who has done an easy workout and have lower recovery needs, you need not get obsessed with refueling immediately after your workout. Over the course of the next 24 hours, your muscles will be able to replenish their depleted glycogen stores as long as you provide them with adequate carbohydrates. Never the less, having something to eat within the hour after you exercise is a wise habit to develop.
If you are a dieting athlete who wants to shed some undesired body fat, I encourage you to refuel soon after your workout because this food can help curb your appetite. This post-exercise snack can ward off the Cookie Monster that might visit in 45 minutes. As you know, a few unplanned post-exercise cookies can quickly wipe out in 3 minutes the calories burned in 30 minutes of exercise!
Keep in mind that recovery calories “count.” That is, I’ve counseled many frustrated dieters who complain they are not losing weight despite their hard workouts. They snarf down 300 or so “recovery calories” and then go home to enjoy a big dinner. To avoid over-indulging in recovery-calories, plan to back your training into a meal. For example, eat dinner soon after your 5:00 p.m. workout. Or, it that is not possible, eat part of your dinner right after the workout. For example, have a recovery bagel at 6:00 pm on your way home from the gym instead of potato with dinner at 7:30 pm.
For more information on recovery needs:
Chapter 10: Fueling during and after exercise in Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.