Nutrition for recovery of endurance activity

 In Exercise and Health

Nutrition for recovery

During post exercise recovery, optimal nutritional intake is important to replenish endogenous substrate stores and to facilitate muscle-damage repair. (1) With muscle glycogen contributing more than 50% of total energy requirements during prolonged moderate to high-intensity exercise, post exercise carbohydrate (CHO) ingestion will determine how quickly muscle glycogen is restored and therefore how quickly the athlete recovers. For athletes backing up multiple training sessions on the same day or competitions on successive days, muscle glycogen stores need to be replenished more rapidly (1) and will play a major role in performance.

The “window of opportunity”:

In the first 30-60 mins, glycogen-synthesis rates are high, but rapidly decrease by 60–90% when no CHO is ingested (1). This time after exercise appears to be a “window of opportunity” where if CHO ingestion is delayed, the glycogen resynthesis rate is reduced (2) inhibiting the athlete’s ability to recover and perform at the next session.

How much:

The dosage of CHO believed to optimally restore muscle glycogen early in recovery is at least 1.2 g/kg body weight/ h up through a 4-h period. (2)

The role of protein:

Co ingestion of protein with CHO increases the insulin response to further accelerate muscle glycogen synthesis during post exercise recovery (1). Furthermore, addition of free leucine could stimulate endogenous insulin release even more (1). However, when CHO ingestion exceeds the recommended 1.2g/kg/hr co ingestion of protein does not increase the rate of muscle glycogen synthesis (1). Post exercise protein ingestion also helps obtain a positive muscle protein balance. This facilitates muscle-damage repair and skeletal-muscle reconditioning (1) which is another step towards recovery.  

The take home:

After exhaustive endurance-type exercise, muscle glycogen repletion forms the most important factor determining the time needed to recover (1) with amounts of 1.2g/kg being most optimal for restoring muscle glycogen. However, from a practical point of view ingesting such large amounts of CHO may at times be difficult for some athletes to achieve. In this situation a combined ingestion of a lesser amount of carbohydrate (0.8g/kg/h) with a small amount of protein (0.2–0.4 g/ kg/ h) may be easier for the athlete to stomach and results in similar muscle glycogen-repletion rates as the bigger dose. Not to mention the additional benefits of protein ingestion on muscle protein synthesis.  

Sarah Fletcher

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  1. M, Burke. L, Gibala.M, Van Loon. L, Nutritional Strategies to Promote Postexercise Recovery (2010) Journal of Sport Nutrition and exercise metabolism
  2. Millard-Stafford. M, Childers. W, Conger. S, Kampfer.A, Rahnert. J,(2008) Recovery Nutrition: Timing and Composition after Endurance Exercise Current sports medicine reports

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