Preparing for an endurance event takes time and dedication. Hours of sweat each day can be a staple of any training programme, with double and back-to-back sessions common to many protocols. To be able to fulfil these high physical demands, an ideal recovery is essential. A well-planned rest protocol with stretching, massage, ice-bath, a good nights sleep and all importantly a re-fuelling strategy are crucial in supporting the body in preparing for the next workout. In fact, research has shown that athletes who optimise post-workout nutrition not only perform better in their following training session, but are also able to knock up a greater number of high quality workouts than those who skip their post-exercise fuel. This allows these athletes to train harder and optimise their athletic ability!

In part 1 of this two-part series on post-exercise nutrition we are going to explore why endurance athletes should fuel post training and when is the best time to do so.

Why is post-workout re-fuelling important?

Prolonged intense exercise places high demands on the body, depleting the muscles of energy and nutrients, leaving them weakened and vulnerable to injury and fatigue. A window of opportunity opens in the immediate aftermath for the body to restore and repair as it becomes primed for nutrient and energy absorption. If this recovery window is optimised then the body will not only be restored to its previous fitness levels, but to a new fitter, stronger, faster self.   

Post exercise re-fuelling helps endurance athletes to:

  • Restore the depleted muscular glycogen stores
  • Replace fluid and electrolytes
  • Promote muscular and soft tissue repair and growth
  • Support the immune system
  • Optimise fitness adaptions from the training session

 When is it best to eat post workout?

There are three important post-exercise recovery re-fuelling windows:

  • 30 minutes post workout
  • 60-90 minutes post workout
  • 12-24 hours post workout.

The 30-minute Post-workout window:

This window is key for any athlete doing a double training day. Up to 30 minutes post exercise the body is at its most capable of transferring sugar from your blood stream into your muscles to replenish the depleted glycogen (muscle sugar) stores. Giving you the optimal opportunity to re-fuel your muscles ready for your next workout.

The 60-90 minutes Post-workout window:

The body remains primed to replace lost muscle glycogen for a further 60-90 minutes post exercise but during this window the body also starts to repair any muscular or soft tissue damage.

The 12-24 hour Post-workout window:

Over the following 12-24 hours post an endurance training session the body continues to replenish and repair the depleted muscular system. It is important to note that as time progresses through this period the body becomes less and less efficient at restoration. So it’s best to re-fuel early. 

By splitting your post-exercise refuelling strategy into two you can get full value out of your post training restoration windows: start with a snack in the first 60-90 minutes post exercise and then continue with small regular meals (every 2-3 hours) throughout the following 12-24 hours.

The question is: are you re-fuelling at the optimum time to maximise your training capacity?!?

 In Part 2 of this series: choosing the right ingredients to maximise your post exercise recovery.

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