Thanks to the “hard work” and billions of marketing dollars spent by companies like Gatorade, EAS, GNC et al, the importance of fueling for a workout has reached most of us.
Unfortunately, because of the billions of dollars spent by the fitness industry on promoting a host of products, it’s easy to get confused by what actually works and what is simply out there to empty your wallet.
So today, I’d like to help everyone get a basic understanding of how you can put together your own recovery shake, at a fraction of the price of those found in stores!
For the vast majority of recreational exercisers (and by that, I mean you aren’t getting paid to exercise), there are three major things you want in a recovery meal or shake:
Sure there are other compounds that can be beneficial like electrolyte (i.e. sodium, potassium, magnesium), antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, etc, but the keys to awesome recovery all the big three mentioned above.
So without further ado, let’s break it down.
Water is pretty critical for a host of cellular functions, but in relation to exercise it is most important in helping us regulate body temperature.
Think of your cells like a raw egg: what happens to a raw egg when you toss it into a pot of boiling hot water? That’s right, it gets cooked solid.
The same thing (in a very extreme example) would happen to our cells if we couldn’t get rid of the heat we produce when we exercise.
Needless to say, cooking ourselves from the inside is NOT COOL.
Obviously, I could go on forever about the importance of water but I think you get the idea. What is most important for our sake is understanding how much fluid we should be intaking while we exercise.
Fluid First and Foremost
As a rule of thumb, here is where everyone should start:
- Aim to consume ~250 ml (1 cup) of fluid every 15 minutes during activity
- For exercise lasting 60 minutes or less, typically water is enough to maintain performance
- For exercise lasting 60 minute of more, adding carbs (i.e. sugar) to your water will enhance performance
So if we apply rule #1 from the above, if I were to exercise for an hour I should intake about 1 L of fluid.
Obviously, this amount can change slightly depending on my size, how hot/humid it is outside, etc. But as a good rule of thumb, this is an excellent habit to start building for better training gains.
Protein & Carbohydrates
Once we’ve made sure to get enough fluid, we can start adjusting how much protein and carbohydrates we ingest.
Although the exact ratio we use will depend on our training goals, one thing that helps everyone is ensuring that both our protein and carbohydrate are EASY TO DIGEST.
In fact, this is the only time of day when simple sugars will help your physique, instead of hurting you by ending up on your thighs!
Most simple sugars like those found in fruit juice, certain fruits like bananas/grapes/oranges or sugary drink mixes will do the trick.
For protein options, you’ll benefit from an easy to digest protein like whey protein isolate. It’s quite affordable and easy to find. Other proteins you might come across are egg protein, pea protein, hemp protein (not the best for a workout shake), casein (slower digesting, needs to be blended for optimal mixability) and soy (to be used only rarely).
So the key points for both protein and carbohydrates is that EASY TO DIGEST is the goal if we are using them as a workout recovery beverage.
Although high fiber foods are generally awesome… they aren’t so much fun if we throw down a bowl of bran cereal before we head off to the track to run some sprints.
You’ve been warned.
Putting it all together
Although some of the numbers I’ll present are a little technical, I’m just posting them to give you some perspective on the matter. I’d really just like you to consider the numbers below a rough guide for aligning your workout shake with your training goals.
|Aggressive weight loss||100%||0%|
|Moderate weight loss + muscle gain||50%||50%|
|Slight weight loss+ aggressive muscle gain||33%||67%|
|Maximum endurance performance and glycogen resynthesis||25%||75%|
I should also point out that most people won’t use much more than 20-25 g of protein in a serving for optimizing muscle growth (you can consume more protein if you’d like, but you won’t grow muscle any faster post-workout).
Additionally, most people can’t absorb much more than 1.2 g of carbs or protein/kg of body weight in a drink during exercise.
Sounds complicated but let’s look at some numbers for someone weighing 80 kg (176 lbs).
|Aggressive Weight Loss||25 g||0 g||500 ml|
|Weight loss + muscle gain||25 g||25 g||750 ml|
|Aggressive muscle gain||25 g||50 g||1000 ml|
|Max glycogen resynthesis||25 g||75g||1000 ml|
As you can see, protein remains fairly constant but when you vary the amount of carbohydrate, you change the primary function of the drink. The reason I play around with the water volume is because a drink that is too concentrated is difficult to digest.
In real world terms for the recreational exerciser, what might these drinks correspond to?
- Aggressive weight loss: 1 scoop whey protein + 2 cups water
- Weight loss and muscle gain: 1 scoop whey protein + 1 cup fruit juice + 1-2 cup water
- Aggressive muscle gain: 2 cups chocolate milk
You can obviously make your workout drinks more complicated, but if you stick to a simple formula like this, you’ll get awesome results without hurting your brain!
Hopefully this helps you sort through the sometimes confusing world of workout nutrition. If you’ve got questions, fire away in the comment section below!