You've just tested your body's limits and are ready for some post-workout nutrition. The International Society of Sports Nutrition notes that the window after a workout may be the most critical point in your training when it comes to nutrition.
If you can pick only one nutrient to consume after an intense workout — go for carbohydrates to replace the energy in depleted muscles. Protein, though, is almost equally important in sealing in your workout's benefits and promoting recovery.
Carbohydrates Mean Energy
Your body converts carbohydrates into glucose, which it then stores as energy in the muscles. After an exhausting exercise session, your primary goal is to replace these stores so you can recover faster and hit your next workout with gusto.
Consuming carbohydrates after exercise is the most effective way to restore glycogen in the muscles, notes a paper published in a 2012 issue of the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Metabolism.
How Many Carbs?
Consume carbohydrates within the first 30 minutes after your intense exercise session to optimize restoration of your glycogen stores. Iowa State University Extension says that 25 to 100 grams of moderate- to high-glycemic carbohydrate foods is sufficient in this immediate time period. Options such as a sports drink or fruit juice are quickly digested and help meet your needs for rehydration, too.
For the next four hours, aim to consume about 0.54 grams of carbs per pound of body weight every hour. For a 180-pound athlete, this amounts to about 97 grams of carbs every hour for four hours — the amount in three and a half medium-size bananas or three 3-inch-diameter bagels.
Eating the recommended amount of carbohydrates for maximum recovery of glycogen stores can be hard, or even impossible, for many people. Your appetite may be suppressed after exercise, and you may not have the right amount of carbohydrates readily available.
Large servings of carbohydrates are also contrary to the goals of weight-conscious athletes. If you stick to just one serving of carbohydrates post-workout, combine it with a 20-gram serving of complete protein, such as whey protein powder, to maximize glycogen recovery. The protein will also help with recovery and muscle growth.
Carbs to Choose
Choose carbohydrates that digest quickly for your post-workout nutrition. Slower digesting carbohydrates, such as oats and whole fruit, are usually healthy options, but after a workout they won't provide an immediate refueling of your energy stores.
Bagels, pasta or refined breakfast cereals are options post-workout. Add to them an egg, a serving of chicken or nut butter to make a complete post-workout recovery meal.