After an intense workout, game or practice, you have the opportunity to reap performance-boosting benefits or risk suffering performance-crushing detriments. Your success or failure lies in your ability to eat and drink the right kind and the right amount of food and beverages to provide your body with exactly what it needs. Follow these five key steps to satisfy your body and ensure your hard work won’t go to waste.
1. Refuel Within 30 Minutes
The 30 minutes following activity is the best time to give your body what it needs. “The half hour after training is a really important time to give your body nutrients,” says Dr. Kim White, Gatorade Sports Science Institute senior scientist. “Your muscles are ready to repair themselves and make themselves better if you give them the proper nutrients.” She advises having easy-to-carry and easy-to-consume foods and drinks readily available, so you can refuel during this crucial window.
2. Replace Fluids
When you work hard, you sweat a lot and lose a lot of fluid. If it’s low on fluids, your body can’t perform any functions well—those that keep you alive as well as those that help you compete. Dr. White recommends weighing yourself before and after practice to determine how much fluid you lost. “After practice, if you’ve lost weight, you should consume fluid to replace that body weight,” she says. “For every pound you lose, [drink] about 20 ounces of fluid.”
3. Replenish Electrolyte Levels
When you sweat you lose more than water. You also lose key minerals such as sodium, chloride and potassium, called electrolytes. Dr. White adds, “If you’re losing too much sodium, you are prone to cramping, [and] you’re at a higher risk of being dehydrated.” To avoid sabotaging your performance, she recommends consuming a sports drink with high levels of sodium and potassium to restore your electrolytes to their proper level before your next workout.
4. Refuel with Carbs
When you work out or compete, your body burns the fuel in its “tank,” just like a car burns gas when you drive. Carbohydrates are the premium unleaded fuel of the food world. “You want carbs to get to your muscles to rebuild their glycogen [energy] stores, so your body is ready the next time you work out,” says Dr. White. Immediately after activity, she recommends taking in 40 to 80 grams of carbohydrates to start the process of topping off your tank.
5. Repair with Protein
Whether your muscles feel sore or not, they do break down during intense activity. Your body is great at repairing its muscles before the next day’s practice or game, but it requires protein to get the job done. Dr. White suggests consuming an immediate dose of 10 to 20 grams of quality protein to begin the muscle repair process. Contrary to popular belief, consuming more protein does not always equate to more muscle. “You don’t want to go over 20 grams, because your body can’t use it,” she adds.