Nutrient Timing

Your muscles break down during a hard workout, but you can stop the breakdown mode by eating as soon as tolerable after you exercise. You'll be taking advantage of the 45-minute postexercise window of opportunity to optimally nourish, repair, and build muscles. Refueling is beneficial in two ways:

  • Carbohydrate stimulates the release of insulin, a hormone that helps build muscles as well as transports carbohydrate into the muscles to replenish depleted glycogen stores.
  • Carbohydrate combined with a little protein (approximately 1020 g) creates an even better muscle refueling and building response, and it reduces cortisol, a hormone that breaks down muscle.

Including generous amounts of carbohydrate in the recovery diet enhances glycogen replacement. Having amino acids (from protein) readily available enhances the process of building and repairing muscles (Ivy 2001; Ivy et al. 2002) and reduces muscle soreness (Flakoll et al. 2004). In fact, eating just a little protein before exercise (such as a glass of skim milk or a yogurt) can optimize recovery by providing a ready-and-waiting supply of amino acids after exercise (Zachweija 2002).

Even if you aren't hungry or have a hard time tolerating postexercise food, take note: You don't need to consume a lot of food. As few as 100 calories can make a big difference. In a study with six platoons (387 marines) during 54 days of basic training, the groups who got 100 calories of a postexercise beverage—8 grams (32 calories) of carbohydrate, 10 grams (40 calories) of protein, and 3 grams (27 calories) of fat—experienced significant health benefits compared with the groups that got plain water or the same formula without protein. This first group of marines had an average of 33 percent fewer medical visits, 28 percent fewer visits for bacterial or viral infections, 37 percent fewer visits for muscle or joint problems, 83 percent fewer visits for heat exhaustion, and significantly less postexercise muscle soreness (Flakoll et al. 2004). Pretty impressive, for just 40 calories (10 g) of protein! You can get about 10 grams of protein in 10 ounces (300 ml) of milk, two eggs, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter on a banana, or a cup of yogurt with a little granola. The message is clear: Proper fueling at the right time is worth the effort. Rather than simply dash off to your next obligation, take the time to grab a chocolate milk or a yogurt.

Five Foods That Build Muscle

Five Foods That Build Muscle

How to properly fuel your body before and after your workouts, with the right nutrients and in the right way, for maximum results week after week! Find out why protein and hardwork is not enough...and why your results will suffer unless you add these other 5 foods to your muscle-building plan.

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