Training's just finished. You run back to the changing room to get your protein shake in. Otherwise you've just wasted a session. Right?
Fortunately (or unfortunately), there's a lot more to post-training/recovery nutrition than protein shakes. Fortunately, you won't lose all your progress if you don't get your protein shake in.
It's important to remember that even if you're training 5 times per week, that's only 5 meals out of the 25-30 you might have that week, so your post-training meals aren't necessarily your first priority.
Also, anyone who trains a lot knows that you're not only recovering in the hours following the training session. Your recovery continues into the next day(s). We all know that feeling when you wake up the next day after a tough training session, struggling to get out of bed. You may have had the most optimal post-training meal possible, but you're not finished recovering yet.
The Importance of Recovery
At a very basic level, we get fitter, faster and stronger by exposing the body to a new stimulus, (in the form of a training session for example) followed up with full recovery through sufficient rest and nutrition.
We do a tough session, the body gets broken down, and we recover to a point where the body is more able to cope with the demands placed on it by that session, and over time, this adds up, as illustrated in the top graph below.
However, if we under-recover, whether that is through lack of rest, or poor nutrition, or a combination of both, we don't just "waste our session" we actually suffer, in terms of performance, strength, muscle size, etc. as illustrated in the bottom graph below.
The Big Picture
We're very quick to turn to post-workout nutrition to solve our recovery needs, and although it is important, there are arguably more important things to get in place first, including adequate sleep (Read this article) and rest, sufficient overall energy intake (Read this article), and an appropriate approach to macronutrient intake (Read this article).
When those things are in place, we can start to look at what we're doing after training sessions.
Refuel and Recover
The main difference between the post-training meal and regular meals, is that the body has extra recovery and refuelling needs. The muscles are at the point where they've just be put under a lot of stress, and you've just used a lot of the fuel supplies in the muscles.
More specifically, the muscles have increased requirements for amino acids for recovery, and the glycogen (stored carbohydrates in the muscle) levels are probably at the lowest they're likely to be.
The definition of "recover", is to return to a normal state of health, mind or strength.
In this instance, that means getting back to a state where we'd be able to perform the same session (or harder) again.
In order to do this, we need to supply enough amino acids to the fatigued muscles, since amino acids are the building blocks of muscle. We get these amino acids from protein.
We also need to make sure our muscle glycogen levels are repleted (re-filled). We do this by eating sufficient carbohydrates, since glycogen is the stored form of glucose, which is what carbohydrates are broken down to when we eat them.
It's important that we start both these processes, particularly the protein side of things, soon after the training session. This doesn't mean that we need to down a protein shake straight away after a session, but it does mean that getting some protein in within an hour of the session is probably a good idea.
From the carbohydrate side of things, the importance comes in the form of the fact that if we don't get some carbohydrates in in this meal, given the usually high-carb requirements of GAA, we may struggle to get enough in in time for the next session. This is particularly true for someone training within 24 hours of the previous session.
There is also the additional factor of increased insulin sensitivity after a tough training session. This will mean that any carbohydrates eaten after a tough training session are more likely to be efficiently stored as glycogen. This is a minor factor, but still worth considering.
It's also important to continue the rehydration process after finishing the training session.
What to Eat?
Let's look at what we've said so far.
It's important to make sure we're eating sufficient food overall (in terms of calories and macronutrients), getting enough sleep/rest, and having some form of carbohydrate and protein after training.
So, for post-training nutrition, we need something that's going to allow us to hit our daily nutritional targets, whilst containing some carbohydrate and protein.
Quite frankly, it's not complicated at all.
Here are some options. Some of these require cooking, and other are pretty quick and easy to prep. Some are also quite easy to get in, even when you don't feel like eating, such as late at night, after training:
- Chicken (protein) and rice (carbohydrate) with veg
- Beef mince (protein) with pasta (carbohydrate) and tomato sauce
- Turkey burgers (protein) with Sweet potato (carbohydrate) and veg
- Porridge oats (carbohydrate) with fruit (carbohydrate) and whey protein
- A smoothie made with oats (carbohydrate), frozen fruit and greek yoghurt (protein)
- Chocolate milk (protein + carbohydrate)
- A whey or dairy-free protein shake (protein) with muesli (carbohydrate)
Summary: Train hard, eat enough, rest enough, and get some carbs and protein in after your training sessions. ps. You can't find recipes for doing this in my Gaelic Athlete Cookbook: knowyourselfnutrition.com/cookbook
Conor O'Neill, Know Yourself Nutrition
If you want to get your nutrition and gym-work on point for GAA, check out the Gaelic Athlete Programs here: knowyourselfnutrition.com/programs (or click on one of the programs below) or our online coaching program here: knowyourselfnutrition.com/gaaleanathlete.