I read a good book on sports recovery by Christie Aschwanden, “Good to Go, What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery”. Copyright 2019. It’s a good read and I recommend it to those interested in the subject. This got me interested in the evidence behind the things we are commonly told to help us recover from sports or working out. I decided to summarize what Christie discusses as well dig into the research a little more, and based on that and my personal experience I offer my recommendations. I will start with hydration and replacing calories after working out.
Do sports drink really aid in hydration and recovery?
There have only been small biased studies that support sports drinks. There is no good compelling evidence that they help more than just drinking water and eating what would have electrolytes (1).
It is important to hydrate after working out. Water is best. You will get electrolytes from just eating food. If you have been working out intensely for more than 2 hours then it is important to get electrolytes sooner as well. You can do this just by eating or drinking any drink with electrolytes. In general, there is no need for sports drinks but if you like the taste or it helps you drink more, it is fine to use after intense exercise. Since many of these drinks have a lot of sugar, these should not be used for general hydration.
Do you have to replenish carbohydrates and protein right after a workout?
It is thought that you should replenish carbs and protein soon after a workout. This is why so many chug down a protein shake after working out. A review article shows that as long as you obtain adequate carbohydrates and protein within 5-6 hours of working out there is no additional benefit of timing of nutrient intake (2). It may only be important to replenish carbs and protein after a workout sooner if you were fasting before working out or if you plan on working out again that day. In general, it is most important to meet your daily nutritional needs but timing is less important for recovery. In general carbs are more needed for endurance athletes, protein more important for muscle hypertrophy.
I would eat 1-3 hour prior to working out and 30 min-3 hours post. If you like to fast before working out then you may want to eat 30 min to 1.5 hours after working out. There is no need for protein shakes you can just eat real food, but if its easier or more convenient to have that protein shake its fine. Don’t eat within 2-3 hours of going to sleep at night as they can increase risk for weight gain and sleep disturbances.
1. Heneghan Carl, Perera Rafael, Nunan David, Mahtani Kamal, Gill Peter. Forty years of sports performance research and little insight gained BMJ 2012; 345 :e4797
2. Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):5. Published 2013 Jan 29. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-5