Nourishment During the Window of Opportunity
If you’ve read the blog post Post-Exercise Nutrition you’ll know that during and shortly after exercise your muscles are open to absorbing nutrients that can stimulate muscle repair, growth and strength. Some refer to this phenomenon as the window of opportunity. Ideally the body needs to be replenished within 2 hours of exercising.
Optimising nutrition for post-exercise recovery is now an integral part of training regimes in both athletes and active individuals. After exercise liver and muscle glycogen stores are depleted and need to be restored, and fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat need to be replaced.
Liquid supplementation is usually more quickly absorbed than solid foods after exercise. A nutrient rich drink containing fast releasing carbohydrates and proteins along with electrolytes (sodium and potassium) are easier to consume and digest than a meal. The post exercise drink should be fat free as fat slows the transit through the stomach delaying the absorption of carbohydrates and proteins. It’s possible to make your own post-workout drink but there are many drinks that contain rapid-release carbohydrates such as maltodextrin, dextrose, glucose, and protein hydrolysates or isolates available.
Workout drinks can be used during or after weight training, interval training, and endurance training lasting 45 minutes or longer. Short bouts of non strenuous exercise like walking the dog or going on a gentle bike ride generally don’t require a recovery drink.
What to Eat
Once your workout is complete and you’ve drunk your restorative drink, it’s recommended to have a hearty meal containing protein and carbs within 2 hours of exercise. Here are a few foods you may wish to include in your post exercise meal to support antioxidant status, muscle health and post-exercise recovery:
Beetroot Juice – has potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, vasodilation, and cellular regulatory properties which may reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, enhancing recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage and speeding healing from muscle soreness (1).
Blueberries – contain health-supportive antioxidants such as anthocyanins. Anthocyanins support the body’s response to oxidative stress, the inflammatory response, and vascular and cognitive health. Blueberries may accelerate muscle recovery and decrease oxidation following exercise (2).
Cherries – tart cherry concentrate has been shown to improve muscle function, and reduce muscle damage, oxidative stress, inflammation, and muscle soreness in athletes, and significantly improves endurance exercise performance (3).
Fats – research suggests that omega 3 supplementation has the potential to support muscle function and to counteract muscle loss as well as supporting the insulin response in skeletal muscles and having an anti-inflammatory effect. Omega 3 fats are found in flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, oily fish, krill oil, and algae.
Oats – may support certain aspects of exercise recovery including mitigating muscle damage (2). Oats support cellular health and may protect against apoptosis related to oxidative stress. A daily intake of 360g of oatmeal for 8 weeks along with high-intensity exercise led to reductions in the inflammatory response and muscle damage.
Plant Protein – the positive influence of animal-based protein supplementation during or after muscle-damaging exercise has been widely studied. Research into whether plant proteins were also beneficial found that taking 25g of oat protein after exercise alleviated exercise induced muscle soreness, reduced inflammatory markers, inhibited limb oedema and improved recovery (4).
Pomegranates – pomegranates and their juice have the potential to enhance exercise performance, speed recovery and alleviate oxidative stress due to intensive exercise through their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (2,5).
Rehydration – it may be necessary to consume 150% of fluid lost during exercise to fully restore hydration. Caffeine and alcohol containing beverages are not ideal rehydration fluids since they promote an increased rate of diuresis.
For information on specific nutrients to aid recovery see blog post Nutrients for Post-Exercise Recovery.
Conclusions: Administration of antioxidants immediately before, during or after exercise can reduce fatigue, improve recovery time, reduce muscle damage and reduce oxidative stress markers.
1. Sports Health. 2022 Jul-Aug;14(4):556-565. Effects of Beetroot Supplementation on Recovery After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage: A Systematic Review. Rojano-Ortega D et al.
2. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Feb 5;19(3):1803. Effect of Antioxidant Supplementation on Markers of Oxidative Stress and Muscle Damage after Strength Exercise: A Systematic Review. Canals-Garzon C et al.
3. J Am Coll Nutr. 2020 Sep-Oct;39(7):657-664. Effect of Tart Cherry Concentrate on Endurance Exercise Performance: A Meta-analysis. Gao R, Chilibeck PD.
4. Food Funct. 2018 Sep 19;9(9):4720-4729. Effects of oat protein supplementation on skeletal muscle damage, inflammation and performance recovery following downhill running in untrained collegiate men. Xia Z et al.
5. Br J Nutr. 2018 Dec;120(11):1201-1216. Effects of pomegranate supplementation on exercise performance and post-exercise recovery in healthy adults: a systematic review. Ammar A et al.