Many endurance athletes are quite particular in regards to what enters the sacred temple that is their body. This is a wise choice, as garbage-in usually equals poor performance and an undesirable body composition. I’ll buy into that mantra, except when it comes to post-ride replenishment meals.
Often after a race in a remote location, I’ll find myself in a situation of limited food options. If I were a better planer, I’d always have a cooler with a perfect spread of foods waiting for me, but that isn’t always practical. While I may be 3 hours away from an ideal nutritional meal, a sub-par or horrible alternative may be much closer.
If grilled salmon, steam vegetables and brown rice are 3 hours away, but a Taco Bell is 2 hours closer – I will always choose Taco Bell, even if I would never ever think of eating there at any other time in my healthy life. In as little as 60 minutes post-workout, the trade-off between waiting for ideal nutrition and just eating garbage is nullified. If you don’t give your body something, anything, it’s going to start breaking itself down and erasing any gains you would have made via the exercise you just performed.
Choosing to wait, and not eat that Taco Bell Gordita may actually increase your body fat percentage as your brain thinks you are starving, slows down your metabolism and begins cannibalizing muscle tissue to store as fat.
The human body is only capable of storing a limited amount of readily available glycogen in muscles and the liver. Stored glycogen, along with fat and additional calories taken during exercise, are what the body uses as fuel.
For most athletes, muscle glycogen stores become depleted within 1-2 hours of exercise (depending on the level of effort). Beyond that time frame, there is a greater emphasis on fat and external food intake as fuel. Furthermore, the human body is incapable of processing calories at the same rate at which they are depleted during typical endurance level (or greater) efforts.
What this boils down to, is that once you have exhausted your muscle glycogen stores, you are going to be riding on a permanent negative energy deficit until you finish your workout and stuff your face.
A post-ride meal may be the most important step to ensuring the fastest possible recovery. Studies have shown that there is a short window of only an hour, post-exercise, to rebuild your glycogen stores. After an hour, your muscles assume you are starving and become catabolic, and start breaking themselves down in order to refuel your body. Basically nullifying your workout, by destroying lean mass – not building it.
So post-workout, aim for a meal with roughly 15 – 25 grams of protein and 80 – 160 grams of carbohydrate. This equates out to a 300 – 700 calorie intake. The protein is there to begin the tissue building/healing process and the carbs are there to refill those empty glycogen stores. Here are some delicious dishes that fill that quota:
- Taco Bell Grilled Stuffed Burrito (34g Protein, 73g Carbs)
- In-N-Out Burger w/ Fries (23g Protein, 93g Carbs)
- McDonalds Double Cheeseburger w/ Coke (25g Protein, 92g Carbs)
- Dairy Queen Small Peanut Butter Blizzard (16g Protein, 83g Carbs)
- Gas Station x2 Payday Candy Bars (14g Protein, 54g Carbs)