Refuel Intelligently

Following a tough race or training session, time is of the essence if you’re going to refuel sufficiently

You cross the line or finish an intense training session and – as has been the case since time immemorial – you’re told to plunder those carbs to maximise that magical 20-minute window. But does it really exist or is it simply a nutritional myth?

“While the 20-minute window is overly prescriptive, nutrition recovery should begin ASAP,” declares Dr James Carter, head of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. “Protein synthesis rates are elevated following both resistance and endurance exercise, while muscle glycogen has the potential to be optimised 1-2hrs following exercise due to improved glucose entry into the muscle.”

Timing the intake of those carbs is crucial to a swift recovery and should feature a drink (sports drink, diluted fruit juice, milk) and food (bananas, flapjack, pasta, cereals). Aim for 1-1.2g carbs per kg bodyweight, so a svelte 60kg racer should consume 60-70g, which equates to a large banana and a flapjack, ideally spaced throughout the hour. Follow this strategy until you enjoy a regular meal.

During that first hour, 20g of protein is the aim. This equates to two large eggs, though milk, a protein bar or yogurt might be more practical so close to crossing that finishing line.

Interestingly, recent research by Professor Luc Van Loon of Maastricht University suggests that protein synthesis rates remain elevated even into sleep.

As for fluid intake, Dr Carter also adds that, “This should be slow but steady to prevent excessive urine output and helps to maintain euhydration [the normal state of body water content]. The amount of fluid to replace will depend on the athlete’s sweat loss and their fluid replacement during exercise.

“It’s beneficial for the athlete to monitor their losses during exercise, with the post-exercise aim being to replace, gradually during the hours after exercise, 125-150% of this loss [to compensate for additional sweating and urine loss].”

Drinks should contain sodium in order to replace what’s been lost in sweat, but also to help drive fluid uptake and retention.