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Refuel, Repair and Recover: Why Post-Exercise Snacks are Important

by Jill Castle, MS, RDN | Apr 29, 2016
After a grueling practice, some rowers will have a vigorous appetite, while others may not feel hungry or ready to eat immediately after training. But, post-exercise eating sets the refuel-repair-recovery process in motion, and we all know that the faster you recover from exercise, the better prepared you are for the next workout or competition.

Sam can’t get enough to eat once he completes his after-school training session. Annie, on the other hand, can’t look at food. She has no appetite after training. 

After a grueling practice, some rowers will have a vigorous appetite, while others may not feel hungry or ready to eat immediately after training. But, post-exercise eating sets the refuel-repair-recovery process in motion, and we all know that the faster you recover from exercise, the better prepared you are for the next workout or competition.

Why do Rowers Need to Eat after Exercise?

Rowers generally know when they’ve worked hard; their muscles are fatigued, sore, and they are mentally spent.

During intense exercise, the muscles use up stored sources of energy (carbohydrate in the form of glycogen) and muscle tissue breaks down. Nutrients are also lost through sweating and need to be replenished.

There has been much research done on the concept of recovery nutrition, or how to maximize muscle repair, refuel muscle tissue, and help the body recover using nutrition.

Two key nutrients, carbohydrate and protein, are known to facilitate muscle recovery.

Carbohydrate is digested, broken down to its simplest form, glucose, and circulated to the blood, liver and muscle. In the muscle, glucose is assembled into long, twisted chains, much like a knotted up strand of pearls, and stored as an energy source. This stored energy is called glycogen. Glycogen, during exercise, can be accessed and slowly released as energy to the exercising muscles. After exercise, the goal is to build up those depleted glycogen stores by eating sources of carbohydrate.

Protein is another nutrient that helps the process of muscle recovery. Amino acids, the smallest form of protein when its been fully digested, circulate to the muscle and repair the microscopic tears that naturally occur from intense exercise. Protein not only helps repair the muscle tissue, it also helps build more.

What Can Rowers Eat?

Researchers have studied chocolate milk for recovery nutrition, mostly because it possesses a natural combination of protein and carbohydrate. The protein content of milk comes from casein (the part that is made into cheese) and whey (the liquid part). Whey protein is rapidly absorbed and utilized by muscle tissue.

The carbohydrate in chocolate milk is called lactose, and is naturally occurring. In the case of chocolate milk, an added source of carbohydrate (in the form of sugar) is included, providing an effective blend of carbohydrate and protein that is conveniently packaged together. Both the carbohydrate and protein found in chocolate milk may expedite muscle repair and glycogen replenishment. 

To keep it practical, an 8 to 10 ounce container of low fat chocolate milk will do the trick. Of course, other food combinations can meet the criteria for muscle recovery. Here are few items to throw in the gym bag if chocolate milk is not your thing, or you want a little more variety to your post-workout recovery snack:  

An 8-ounce bottled smoothie drink
Mozzarella cheese stick and four Triscuit crackers
½ cup nuts and dried fruit mix
½ of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Granola bar (containing 10 grams of protein) 

When Should Rowers Eat After Practice?

The timing of eating has been studied and found to have an impact on the effectiveness of using recovery snacks. Muscles are most sensitive to nutrition, especially carbs and protein, and best able to respond to nutrition in the first 30 to 45 minutes after exercise. Studies show that eating within this 30-45 minute window after exercise is key to the muscles receiving the maximal amount of glycogen to reload for future exercise. Muscle tissue is also very efficient at utilizing amino acids in this time frame as well.

Whether the rower is starving after a workout or not the least bit interested in eating, having something small to eat after exercise may pay off in performance results, including strength, endurance and everything in between.

Jill Castle, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian, childhood nutritionist, and youth sports nutrition expert. She is the author of Eat Like a Champion: Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete. Learn more about Jill at www.JillCastle.com and check out her free list of 70 Awesome Pre-Workout Snacks for Kids here.

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