We often think about what we need to consume before and during a workout in order to crush it, but the foods we consume after can have a huge impact on recovery. Let’s say one of your goals this year is to run your first marathon. Refueling your body after a long training run is vital for swift recovery and helping you hit those important day-to-day goals without hitting the wall. The best fuel for that job: carbohydrates.
Yeah, we know, carbs like bread, pasta, and rice, which our body digests into glucose (causing a spike in blood sugar) have gotten a bad rap in some diet circles. But they’re important for our body’s immediate energy needs—from breathing, thinking, and walking to running and training. Plus, when we don’t use all that glucose in the blood for immediate energy it converts to glycogen—a form of sugar that can be easily stored by our muscles and liver for later access whenever we aren’t in that “fed” (absorptive) state.
Muscle glycogen is the predominant fuel source athletes use (and must restore afterwards) for endurance training—for any strenuous aerobic activity lasting over an hour. In fact, your endurance training and performance is directly related to those glycogen stores. Once it’s depleted during training, you’ll be feeling that telltale energy lapse and fatigue. And while some athletes argue they can function with lower carbohydrate levels than what’s generally recommended, there’s quite a difference between “functioning” and performing optimally.
Those aforementioned high-glycemic carbohydrate foods you consume (adding potatoes, fruits, and maltodextrin supplements to the list above) will help replenish glycogen stores when consumed immediately following an endurance workout. Why? Because muscle tissue is sponge-like and thus rapidly soaks up glucose from high-glycemic carbs when necessary.
So, how many carbs should you be consuming after your workout. The best way to quickly replenish muscle glycogen is to consume 1.2g of high-glycemic carbohydrates per 1kg of body weight immediately after exercise. Waiting over two hours after exercise before replenishing carbohydrates will reduce glycogen synthesis by as much as 50 percent.
What can you do if high-glycemic carbs aren’t available immediately after exercise? Opt for a high-quality supplement to ensure you’re replacing glycogen for optimal performance and recovery. Here are seven of our favorites.
Jordan Mazur, M.S., R.D., is the coordinator of nutrition and team sports dietitian for the San Francisco 49ers.
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