We covered pre-workout fueling, as well as what to eat during exercise or training, so this time I’ll wrap things up with hydration and post-workout/recovery.
Hydration: For optimal hydration (and to minimize the pre-race sprint to the bathroom), drink 2-3 cups of fluid 2-3 hours before exercise. Then, just during warm-up or pre-game, consume another 1-2 cups. During exercise, strive to take in 1 cup of fluid every 15-20 minutes, especially during warm weather. This can be hard to do, so practice practice practice before a major competition or race. Post-exercise, aim for 2-3 cups of water for every pound lost (e.g. weigh yourself before and after to assess water loss). Because your kidneys and GI system are stressed during exercise (and your body is focusing on delivering oxygen and fuel to your working muscles), you can’t always trust the “drink when you’re thirsty” adage – so make sure you’re taking in adequate fluid. Be careful not to overdo it, however, as hyponatremia (excess fluid intake) can be extremely hazardous to your health. Monitor, practice, and be consistent.
It’s super important to re-fuel and rehydrate during the 30-60 minutes immediately after strenuous exercise (anything lasting 60 minutes or more). This is often called the “glycogen window,” where your muscle and liver are hungry for glycogen (your body’s short-term storage form of carbohydrates and very important for athletic performance) after being depleted during training or competition. In fact, your body will absorb and replace glycogen stores up to 5x faster during this “window” than during any other period! If you miss this “window,” you may find that you feel sluggish, tired, sore and just generally depleted after a really hard run, soccer match or competition. Your body needs fuel, quickly.
Fuel up post-exercise with a small, high carb-containing meal or multiple meals spaced out over a couple hours. Target 1.5 g CHO/kg body weight during the first hour post-exercise, with a meal or snack ranging from 200-400 calories. Protein is also critical during this period because your body needs to begin repairing itself quickly. Here, 10-20 grams of protein is a good target. Ideally, you want a food or meal that’s got a ratio of 3 or 4:1 (carbs to protein).
Sometimes it’s just too hard to eat right after a race or intense workout (I find I’m not hungry and/or feeling a bit queasy, personally). So, try out small snacks or liquids that you can comfortably tolerate. Some ideas: try Greek yogurt with a small bit of fruit, a smoothie or even regular old chocolate milk. These all are relatively portable, easy to digest, and will give your body the fuel it needs for recovery. Then, 1-2 hours later, focus on a larger, well-balanced meal of carbs, proteins and healthy fats. For more good ideas, check out Nancy Clark’s article here.
I wrote a longer post on this previously, and am generally not a huge fan of these, however there are a few that may be useful to aid in recovery. If you just can’t tolerate actual food, you might consider a protein shake or meal replacement shake to get the nutrients in that you need. Also, to relieve inflammation caused by endurance exercise, 1,000-2,000 IU of fish oil (in liquid or capsule form) can also help reduce/mitigate inflammation and keep you feeling strong. And my favorite post-workout “tool” – an Epsom salts bath. The magnesium in the salts helps quickly penetrate and relax tired and stressed muscles. (Note: the salts can also dehydrate you, so be sure to tank up on fluids during and/or after your bath!).
Train Hard. Run Hard. Play Hard. Eat Well!