Written by Julie Germaine
High 5!! … oh, oops, I mean just a virtual high five, of course… But the point is that you did it! Your workout is D-O-N-E! You can feel great about being well on your way to achieving your fitness goals. … EXCEPT that you are wasting your time if your nutrition isn’t aligned with your training efforts!
The whole point of working out is to fatigue the muscles bellies, causing the body to acknowledge the need for enhanced strength in that area and begin the process of building. The muscles are actually torn microscopically during resistance training. During recovery, this tissue damage is repaired and made even stronger. To optimize your potential gains, it is absolutely critical to ingest the proper macro- and micronutrients that fuel the healing process.
Among many other functions, protein plays a pivotal role in exercise recovery. Without getting too in depth, proteins are composed of amino acids, and the human body uses just 20 types of amino acids on the daily. Some of these are labeled ‘essential’ amino acids because the body cannot produce them, so they must be consumed through food (or supplementation). There are also conditionally essential amino acids, which are required during infancy, injury, or illness.
Below is a list of Essential Amino Acids and food sources associated with them:
- Histidine – meat, fish, chicken, seeds, whole grains
- Lysine – meat, eggs, soy, black beans, pumpkin seeds, quinoa
- Methionine – eggs, grains, nuts, seeds
- Phenylalanine – dairy, meat, chicken/turkey, fish, nuts, beans
- Threonine – cottage cheese, wheat germ
- Tryptophan – wheat germ, cottage cheese, turkey
Branched Chain Amino Acids
- Isoleucine – meat, fish, chicken, eggs, cheese, lentils, nuts, seeds
- Leucine – soy, legumes, beans
- Valine – soy, cheese, peanuts, mushrooms, whole grains, veggies
This is a list of Conditionally Essential Amino Acids:
- Arginine – red meat, grain products
- Cysteine – grain products, meats
- Glutamine – chicken, fish, cabbage, spinach
- Glycine – meat, poultry, grains
- Proline – grain products
- Tyrosine – meat, dairy products, grain products
So how can this knowledge help you get better results from your fitness program? Well, the ideal moment to kickstart muscle synthesis is immediately post workout, so preparing the body by topping up on amino acids, including BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids), before, during and after resistance training will help everything run smoothly so the recovery process is extremely efficient and successful!
It is commonly accepted that the post workout meal timing is extremely important. Bodybuilders would rush to smash their protein shake and quality carbohydrates within twenty minutes of completing their last set. However, science has shown that, though this meal is still valuable, the window of opportunity is much broader as long as protein intake was adequate before the workout (unless if the athlete is exercising again within 24 hours, in which replenishing as soon as possible affects performance).
The best way to ensure full and healthy recovery is to consume 1 to 1.2 g/kg of carbohydrates for 4 to 6 hours post-exercise and 20 to 30 g (0.25 to 0.3 g/kg) of protein after exercise. Some examples of nutritious carbs / lean protein meals are:
- Chicken breast with vegetables and potato
- Lean bison on whole wheat bun with tomato slices and lettuce
- Whey protein shake with fruit (ie: banana)
It is convenient – and delicious! – to use protein powders to bolster your daily requirements, so which kind is best? A general rule of thumb: whey protein is right for post-workout meals, where-as the more slowly absorbing casein protein has a perfect place as a nighttime snack, gradually releasing aminos into your system when the body recovers during rest.
Your major takeaway from this read is that ‘recovery food’ is not just your post-workout meal, but a totality of all the healthy, protein-rich foods you consume throughout your day that enable you to reach that sweet spot for cell regeneration, being 0.8 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day, on the higher end when you are an active person.