Despite what many athletes may believe, you do not gain muscle during workouts. No matter how hard you trained today, your time spent working out is not what is making you stronger. Your most important performance gains will occur during recovery, when your body is rebuilding muscle and replenishing itself.
In addition to prioritizing cool-down, stretching and soft tissue work, good post-workout nutrition contributes to recovery by replenishing energy stores, increasing muscle size and quality and repairing damage caused during workouts.
We caught up with Momentous Performance Engineer Jordan Mazur, MS, RD (@FuelCoachRD) — who leads all nutrition for the San Francisco 49ers — to get the lowdown on proper post-workout fueling strategies. Here’s a good reminder of why recovery is vital to success no matter what type of athlete you are:
From a nutritional perspective, exercise recovery is a highly complex process with many variables. That’s because the body deals with nutrients differently at different times, depending on the activity. The nutrients you consume after your workouts will contribute to improved body composition, performance and overall recovery.
As an athlete, you must understand that the work you put in during your training is simply a stimulus. This stimulus may come in the form of strength or aerobic training, but regardless of how you exercise, your workout causes muscle damage and uses fuel. This stimulus will only create results if you recover between workouts with adequate nutrition and sleep.
I’ve worked with athletes from marathoners to golfers, and from weekend warriors to top professional athletes and Olympians. All of them are unique, and their recovery strategies must be individualized as well.
I once worked with a cross country athlete who was constantly sick with upper respiratory infections and unable to maintain his weight. Not surprisingly, his performance was suffering. After some investigation, we found that he wasn’t properly fueling going into his workouts. He was also under-recovering, meaning he was not consuming enough protein and carbohydrates after his workout to repair and rebuild before his next workout. This contributed to his comprised immune system.
I have also worked with many professional athletes who have very strict weight goals and are afraid that consuming protein will cause weight gain or cause them to gain body fat. Actually, only about one-third of the total protein in our body is found in our muscles, and the remainder is used for a number of functions, including building antibodies, enzymes, hormones, structure of cells, and to transport molecules within cells and throughout the body. Consuming sufficient protein is important not only to build muscle and get stronger, but also for overall health and wellness to allow your body to run efficiently.
As you recover from an effort, the repair and rebuilding of muscle occurs through the breakdown of the damaged protein (protein breakdown) and the construction of new ones (protein synthesis). This process is known as protein turnover.
Post-workout nutrition entails three specific goals. You want to (1) limit protein breakdown, (2) stimulate protein synthesis, and (3) replenish glycogen stores.
Theoretically you can get sufficient protein from your diet alone, but many people aren’t hungry immediately after a workout, and even if you can eat, whole foods are digested too slowly. We want the nutrients to be available immediately, so fast absorption is important. After finishing a workout, protein breakdown is far greater than protein synthesis. Research shows that this imbalance can be reversed. When you consume appropriate nutrients, including at least 20 grams of protein, protein synthesis is stimulated and protein breakdown is suppressed.
Liquid nutrition in the form of a protein shake or drink is ideal because it’s palatable, and it’s digested and absorbed quickly. The recovery products in the Momentous lineup are perfectly formulated as the optimal post-workout recovery option.
Although protein drinks tend to be quick absorbing, if your body isn’t primed to digest them, you will excrete the majority of the protein. Momentous’ inclusion of ProHydrolase, a proprietary enzyme blend, in all of our products maximizes digestion and the conversion of protein into a bio-usable form faster and more effectively than the competition, improving your ability to build muscle and recover faster.
Quality is just as important as quantity when it comes to protein. The cows that provide the milk for Momentous’ whey are exclusively grass-fed, hormone free, and antibiotic free. Every product also undergoes third-party testing including NSF certification to ensure that every ingredient claimed on the label is accurate and free of contaminants.
One proposed strategy is to consume high-quality protein dosed at 0.4–0.5 g/kg of lean body mass at both pre- and post-exercise. The optimal amount is debatable, but science agrees that a minimum of 20 grams of high quality whey protein is sufficient to stimulate protein synthesis.
To make the most of your work in the gym and on the field, stop treating recovery like an afterthought. Make post-workout nutrition recovery a priority to get better each and every day.