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Finish, then refuel fast

Refueling after a workout or run is the last crucial step.

You get home in the evening after finishing a satisfying five-miler. That's after putting in a full day at the office, of course. A hot shower and the sofa are calling you, but the dog needs to be walked, the kids are demanding attention, and your better half is nowhere to be seen. Dinner is a distant dream.

Or perhaps you run with the gang at lunchtime? You have a few minutes to shower, dress, and become a productive member of society again. Too bad the cafeteria is too far away on the other side of the building.

The important window of opportunity

Refueling after a workout or run is the last crucial step you must take to ensure that you look after yourself properly and get the most out of your training. Optimal physical performance requires careful attention to both pre- and post-workout meals. If you consistently miss the window of opportunity that exists after exercise to replace muscle glycogen stores, you set yourself up for poor performance in upcoming days.

Why? Happily the physiology behind this is simple: your body stores excess carbohydrate (sugars and starches) as glycogen, primarily in your muscles and liver. Therefore, the carbohydrates you consume on a daily basis influences the amount of muscle glycogen you store. Since muscle glycogen is the fuel of choice for working muscles, your reserves directly affect your ability to train and compete - especially in endurance events.

This so called 'window of opportunity' can quickly close and needs to be acted upon shortly after completing your run or workout. Furthermore, since exercise tends to heat up your body you may find that you don't have much of an appetite. So, be warned, you cannot rely on your body telling you it's hungry and needs to be refuled.

Drinks and carbohydrates after exercising

The best way to rehydrate and replace the carbs your body needs is to drink a sports drink or fruit juice immediately after exercising. Aim to consume 50 to 100 grams of carbohydrate (approximately half a gram of carbohydrate per pound of body weight) within the first 30 minutes following a long run or race. If you choose one of the commercial sport drinks intended for use during exercise be sure to drink an adequate amount after your run. These drinks are less concentrated than fruit juices, so best to go with fresh fruit juices.

If you're running or training away from home, keep a bottle of fruit juice in your desk or rucksack.

Apart from rehydrating, you need to eat as soon as possible. While it is important to start consuming carbohydrates shortly after exercising in order to replace the muscle glycogen you've just used up, a couple of glasses of juice is not sufficient. You need to complete the job by continuing to snack on high-carbohydrate foods every two hours until your next meal. Aim for 50 to 100 additional grams of carbohydrate every two hours. Try a banana or an energy bar.

If you've been feeling below par at work or can't seem to stay up with your friends out running, you may be underfueling your muscles rather than overtraining. Assuming that you are eating a balanced diet of foods from all five food groups - runners cannot live on carbohydrates alone! - experiment with this post-exercise carbohydrate window for a few days. Chances are you'll feel better throughout the day and, more importantly, during that next run.

... but I don't feel hungry

Anticipate and prepare for a depressed appetite following a major workout or a long, tiring run. You can't rely on your body to prompt you into action.

Concentrate on immediately consuming sufficient recovery drinks that provide fluids and carbohydrates: juices or sports drinks.

Eat some high-carbohydrate foods or snacks. Try smoothies, fruit, yoghurt, cereal or baked potatoes.

Satisfy salt cravings with soups or low-fat crackers, or salt sprinkled on your baked potato.

Be sure to resist the urge to wait for your appetite to return. Your muscles' ability to replenish glycogen is greatest during the "carbohydrate window" immediately following exercise. You may end up so hungry later on that you can't make a sensible nutritious choice and end up guzzling down a pizza.


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