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Sensible Sports Nutrition: Exercise and the Truth about the “Recovery Product”

I have worked with lots of athletes in my thirteen years as a dietitian and it seems the big question is always what should I be eating pre and post exercise.  Often times this is not a simple answer as we must go through a typical daily intake of food combined with a specific explanation of exercise.  I do find, however, that the general public is completely confused about this and often over eating when it comes to pre and post meals.

As Nancy Clark describes in the Sport’s Nutrition Handbook, there are two types of athletes:  “serious” and “recreational.”  Please do not get disturbed with these labels as I’m sure we all agree that the recreational exerciser is still quite serious about the method.  The point is that a serious athlete is the person who exercises intensely for approximately  90 minutes straight or someone such as a competitive swimmer or runner, a soccer player who may have two a days, or a triathlete training twice a day.  The recreational athlete exercises about three to four days a week less than 90 minutes at a time

If you are a recreational exerciser and do not have additional exercise planned within 4-6 hours after your initial workout, it is not necessary to rush to your recovery meal 45 minutes after exercise.  The reason is that you have lots of time to replenish your muscle glycogen stores and prepare you for your next workout.  So do you need to have that protein bar or magic milk they provide you after that 5K or even that 10K?  In my opinion, absolutely not.
If you are labeled a “serious” exerciser, however, it is important to replenish yourself within 45 minutes of your event.  Experts recommend mixing a carbohydrate (about .5g per pound of weight) with a protein (10-20 grams).  A perfect example of this provided by Nancy Clark is a chocolate milk or even a yogurt.

Do I secretly cringe when I see the gyms that provide the protein bars and special shakes?  Yes.  Why add calories that you’ve just burnt off if you don’t need them?

All in all if you have questions about how you are eating pre and post workout or if you aren’t sure what your label is as an exerciser, it is worth speaking to a dietitian as nutrition can not only assist with recovery but also performance. 

Until then, my advice is if you aren’t working out for 90 minutes or more, don’t worry about that special bar or shake, you most likely don’t need it. 

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