Stroll down the aisles of any sporting goods store or Rebel Sport, and you’ll quickly discover that recovery is big business. Now, tech companies flaunt all manner of massage guns and vibrating trigger balls, designed to help minimize muscle soreness, tease out those knots in your back, and ensure that when tomorrow arrives, you’re walking freely and not, as many of us are after a hard workout, hunched over and struggling to pick one foot up after another. But as much as foam rolling helps with muscle tightness, when it comes to recovery nutrition can’t be overlooked.
We’ve long known the importance of rest and getting as much sleep as we can after a hard workout to ensure our muscles can repair themselves, but nutrition is equally as imperative when it comes to recovery. If muscle soreness continues to plague you after a strenuous workout, you might want to consider taking a closer look at your nutrition.
The “Magic Window” of nutrition
Lots of people like to talk about the “magic window” when it comes to fuelling after a workout. For most, this window of recovery refers to the need to get food in 30 to 60 minutes after a workout. If you’re looking to reduce post-exercise muscle soreness, post-workout nutrition is very important, as is the timing of your nutrition. Aside from merely stopping additional muscle protein breakdown, food also helps to repair the body and restore glycogen stores.
As Women’s Running notes, “Post-exercise, a greater rate of muscle glycogen resynthesis is achieved based on the greater rate of sensitivity of muscle to insulin. In fact, choosing simpler carbs in the 30 minutes post-exercise completion can help promote the highest rates of glycogen resynthesis. Regular carb feedings every 2 hours, 4 to 6 hours post-exercise, can ensure that glycogen is replenished properly for back to back higher intensity or longer training days.”
When it comes to nutrition, protein and carbohydrate consumption has been found to increase muscle protein synthesis and help increase glycogen resynthesis rates to even higher levels. You also want to consider higher branch chain amino acid sources, which tend to produce the highest rates of muscle protein synthesis. This can be found in foods like dairy, meat, beans, and tofu. The best rule of thumb is to consume 45-60 grams of carbohydrates with 15-20 grams of protein in the 30-minute window post-workout.
Hydration is key
It goes without saying that after strenuous activity, you need to be hydrating. Dehydration, even in small amounts, can result in reduced power, endurance and strength. A good target when it comes to post-exercise hydration is to replace all fluids lost during activity, which tends to be about 473mL per hour of activity.
Tart cherry juice has also become a popular choice among endurance athletes due to its properties which are known to assist with inflammation and reduce muscle soreness. Research suggests that tart cherry juice is effective at reducing muscle soreness when used at a dosage of 350mL per day for 7 days out from a target event or workout, as well as one 350mL serving day of target event or workout.
Inflammation commonly occurs in the body post-workout, but certain foods can also help to minimize it. Consider omega-3 fatty acids, like EPA and DHA. Studies suggest there appears to be a beneficial effect with omega-3 supplementation. Another key ingredient when it comes to recovery is magnesium which not only reduces muscle soreness but also plays a key role in keeping lactic acid at bay, regulating muscle contraction and relaxation, and helping with protein synthesis.
While magnesium supplementation is certainly achievable, there are also a number of magnesium-rich foods you can consume. These should be a priority before considering supplements and can be found in pumpkin seeds, avocado, nuts, beans, rice, and spinach.
Ensure you have enough calories
Most importantly, you need to ensure you’re getting enough calories into your body. If you enter a deficit, your body not only will lack energy but will be depleted in nutrients that are essential for recovery, too. If getting enough calories in is something you struggle with, consider liquid calories as something that’s easier to get down. Things like soups and smoothies that contain energy-rich foods like avocado, nuts, and seeds can help you meet your energy demands. It’s also important not to limit your intake of carbohydrates and protein, as both work together to help replace glycogen stores and repair muscles.
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