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Timing is Everything in Sports Nutrition

There are critical times to eat that will improve your health, and times that can be harmful to your health. For example, eating right after exercise can promote muscle growth and recovery but eating late at night can cause weight gain.1, 2 Timing is important for anybody who participates in sports or in physical activities. If you are active on a regular basis you are an athlete. Athletes are everywhere including within you, you don’t have to run a 2 hour marathon to be an athlete. This brief article explores 4 concepts that will help you improve your performance: Repair, Rehydrate, Revitalize, and Refuel3.

Repair: It is essential to start the repair process immediately after your workout. The optimal time to refuel and repair lean tissue with protein, energy, and vitamins and minerals is within 30 minutes after your workout. Research shows that 20-25 grams of protein or 1- 1.2 g/ per kg of bodyweight will help you jumpstart the recovery process4, 5. What you eat is important and will be discussed more below.

Rehydrate: Before strenuous exercise it is important that you have a balance of fluids and electrolytes. During exercise it is important to replenish fluids that are lost as a result of your hard work. Note that you can determine how much fluid you need simply by weighing yourself before and after strenuous exercise. After exercise, drink 1 ½ cups of water for every ½ pound lost during the workout. Electrolyte and carbohydrate supplementation are only necessary if exercise lasts longer than 1 hour. Fluid replacement after exercise is to replete any fluid still lost during exercise. It is recommended that salt also be used in drinks or foods when re-hydrating after exercise6,7.

Revitalize: This concept is not just nutrition related; you need to replenish energy both physically and mentally after your workouts. Your body uses a lot of vitamins, minerals, fat, carbohydrates, and protein for energy in your workouts. Remember rest, and when possible, use whole foods to replenish energy loss. If it not practical to use whole foods, consider a supplement of protein, carbohydrates, or other vitamin/mineral supplements 7. As with all supplements, make sure that are quality assured, and scientifically founded with university testing. The FDA does not regulate these.

Refuel: Muscles store energy as glycogen and glycogen is used for energy during exercise. After a workout the goal is to replace glycogen and ensure the muscle has energy stored for your next work out – like refilling your car’s gas tank after a long trip. Timing is important. Eating/drinking within that 30-minute window after exercise will “fill the tank”. Preparation for your next workout starts immediately after the first one. While it is important to take time to revitalize and rehydrate, as mentioned above, it is also important to build energy for your next bout of intense work. With proper refueling 24-48 hours after a workout, you will reap the benefits of having more energy and increased strength and endurance in your next workout7.

As an athlete, look at the whole picture of training. A workout is part of your training and nutrition is another part of the equation. Though it may sound complicated, it can be simplified. Eat or drink your energy within 30 minutes after a hard work out to restore the fuel (glycogen) and repair muscle. Alternatively, just have a large fruit smoothie from the juice bar, made with low fat milk, soymilk, water, coffee, and fruit plus add 1 scoop of protein powder for muscle repair. Order the smoothie before you start your workout so it is ready when your workout is finished. Besides tasting delicious, it is repairing, refueling, replacing and revitalizing you for the next workout.

1. Cribb, Paul J and Hayes, Alan (2006) Effects of Supplement-Timing and Resistance Exercise on Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 38 (11). pp. 1918-1925. ISSN 0195-9131, 1530-0315
2. Marci E Gluck, Colleen A Venti, Arline D Salbe, and Jonathan Krakoff Nighttime eating: commonly observed and related to weight gain in an inpatient food intake study Am J Clin Nutr October 2008 vol. 88 no. 4 900-905
3. Ideas taken from: "Practical Sports Nutrition: The Four R's of Recovery." L Broad, SCAN's Pulse, AND, volume 33, no.1, 2014.
4.K. M. Zawadzki, B. B. Yaspelkis 3rd, and J. L. Ivy Carbohydrate-protein complex increases the rate of muscle glycogen storage after exercise Journal of Applied Physiology May 1, 1992vol. 72 no. 5 1854-1859
5.J. L. Ivy, A. L. Katz, C. L. Cutler, W. M. Sherman, and E. F. Coyle Muscle glycogen synthesis after exercise: effect of time of carbohydrate ingestion Journal of Applied Physiology April 1, 1988vol. 64 no. 4 1480-1485
6. Exercise and Fluid Replacement Position Stand, American College of Sports Medicine, Med Sci Sports Exer. 2007:39;377-390. - See more at:
7..Louise M. Burkea*, John A. Hawleyb, Stephen H. S. Wongc& Asker E. Jeukendrupd pages S17-S27 Journal of Sports Sciences Volume 29, Supplement 1, 2011Special Issue: Supplementary Issue: IOC Conference on Nutrition in Sport, 25-27 October 2010, International Olympic Committee, Lausanne, Switzerland

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