I come across countless people that are desperate to implement a new exercise, training method, or social fad within their training schedule – when in truth, pretty much all of them should instead be focussing on the time away from their training, as opposed to in it. Growth does not occur in the gym, or on game day, on race day, nor on fight night. This is a time for damage and breakdown of tissue. Growth occurs away from these arenas, and in the other 20+ hours a day. When it comes to the post-exercise window, how many of us zone in on making sure we get the most out of the work just done, and how many of us go the opposite direction, think the hard work is done, and can just kick back and wait for progress to load?
Can we create an optimal environment for these changes to occur? Can we ensure we are supporting our bodily functions to maximise adaptation, and give ourselves the best chance of going again whenever the siren calls. This starts as soon as your session finishes, and although it is an area shrouded in contradiction, given an over-complicated ocean of dietary fads and gimmicks that are promoted via social channels, there are some fundamentals that apply for the vast majority of cases, and getting a handle on these can set you well on your way to enhanced recovery, and improved adaptation.
So, with that said, let's have a closer look at the 4 R's, and why they should be drilled into your post-exercise nutrition rituals!
It's crucial our first port of call is re-hydrating. Hydration is key for a wide spanning variety of bodily functions, and impairments to our hydration status that are inevitable post-exercise need to be addressed first and foremost. Whether in the form of good old H2o, or assisted with an electrolyte-based drink, we want to aim to replenish fluid lost post training so that our body can operate optimally, and kick-start the recovery process under a well-functioning umbrella! If you're able to, and in an ideal world, weigh yourself pre-session, and again post-session, and be sure to replace the fluid lost by 120-150% within 90 mins post exercise. That means if you lose 1kg during your time on the bike, aim for 1.2-1.5L worth of fluid within an hour and a half post exercise (starting immediately) in order to regain some balance. If you have access too a nutritionist and/or physiologists, you can go to the extent of calculating individual sweat rates, and then really honing in on personal hydration strategies to get ahead of the curve.
High intensity exercise depletes our bodily stores of carbohydrate (glycogen). If we have a quick turnaround between competition stages, games and or training, then restoring these stores is key. As a general rule of thumb, shoot for 2g per kg of body weight in the 90 min post exercise period, although this will vary depending on the nature of exercise you've just completed (and its relative intensity and volume), restoring muscle and liver glycogen, and re-balancing blood glucose levels will be absolutely crucial to short term recovery. If you have congested training sessions, or competition stages though avoid fat in this window as it can delay gastric emptying, and consuming alongside a protein source can improve the digestion/absorption process. Always think Carbohydrate for "short term recovery", Protein for "long term adaptation", which brings me on nicely to my next R…
Protein forms the building blocks that our tissues need for growth and repair. We should be aiming to consume 0.3-0.6g per kg of protein per meal across 4-5 eating windows daily (depending on your goal). It has often been rammed down our throats that as soon as the session ends, and the last leg is run, the last weight has been racked, or the final whistle has gone, that we should be guzzling down protein immediately. Current research suggests that this may not necessarily be the case – yes protein is important to restore protein balance and aid in the repair and recovery process, but on the assumption your last protein rich meal wasn't too long ago, you can prioritise the aforementioned before then switching your focus to the long term adaptation.
Although not quite nutrition related, sleep is the most valuable performance enhancing tool that is available to all of us. And yet so many of us neglect it. Ensure a good nights sleep by keeping your sleep hygiene standards high. That means a cool room, as dark as possible, as quiet as possible, and as familiar as possible. This gives all of the above it's best opportunity to work its magic, creating an optimal internal environment for our bodies to come back stronger, fitter, and better, next time around.
If your training/competition has been particularly intense and grueling, we may find ourselves re-paying calorie debt over several meals, and even several days beyond completion, in which case, continue to follow the guidance outlined above!
There are 1%'ers we can support around this, but those 1%'s mean nothing, if the 99% is flawed. Take care of yourself, take care of your body and mind, and respect the 4 R's.