October 19, 2017

The 30-Minute Window for Triathletes

What do you think is the most crucial time of a training session?  Is it the first few minutes, the very end, the warm-up, or somewhere in the middle of your workout that is the most important?  It may surprise you to know the most important time is the 30 minutes directly after your workout is finished.

The time from your warm-up to the conclusion of your workout is obviously important.  Improper form, too low an intensity, too high an intensity, unsafe behavior, and other factors can ruin the effectiveness of a workout.  But even if do all of that perfectly, you can still negate the benefits of a workout by not using the 30 minute window to replenish nutrients lost during your training session.

Nutrition and Triathlete TrainingDuring a training session you are taxing your body and using up its energy stores (glycogen).  Once your workout is finished, you must replenish what you lost in order for your body to begin the process of repair.  In the 30 minutes immediately following your workout, your insulin sensitivity is at its highest and when your body is in this state, whatever nutrients you take in will be easily transported directly to your muscles, liver, and wherever else it is needed.  You will suck it up like a sponge.

If you do not eat or drink the right things soon after your workout, the window of opportunity will close and it will take you much longer to replenish glycogen stores and other nutrients.  This will dramatically increase the time it takes for you to recover from that workout, decrease the performance benefit of the workout, and affect your next workouts.  The more recovery time between workouts, the fewer workouts you can do in a period of time.  Fewer and lower quality workouts means less opportunity for fitness gains and slower race times.  Can you see why post workout nutrition is so important?

Now you know why it’s important, but what should you eat or drink after a workout?

The three things you need to focus on replenishing after a workout are muscle glycogen, water, and electrolytes.  To replace muscle glycogen, you should consume something with easy to digest carbohydrates, about 1 – 1.2 grams per pound of body weight.  Simple to digest carbs include some fruits, sports drinks, white bread, simple sugar, etc.

To aid in the absorption rate of the glycogen and prevent muscle catabolism (breaking down muscle tissue for energy), 10-20 grams of easy to digest protein is ideal.  Stick with whey protein for this, or even better, hydrolyzed whey, which is already pre digested and made for easy absorption.  You can find whey protein at any nutrition store.

To replenish electrolytes, a sports drink is your best bet unless you are planning on eating a salty meal soon after your workout.  Electrolyte is basically a fancy word for sodium or salt.

You should continue the carb, protein, electrolyte consumption every two hours or so until your next major meal.  If I know I am eating an hour or two after my workout, I find that chocolate milk is a great post workout drink.  It has sugar in the milk and the chocolate to replace muscle glycogen and protein in the milk to aid in absorption.

You can get away with a bad warm-up, bad form, or improper intensity to some extent and still have a good workout, but failing to consume proper nutrition can make your workout a waste of time, and in some cases, even damaging.  Just remember the 30-minute window of opportunity and plan ahead to make sure you get proper nutrition in before the window closes.

Jarrett Pflieger

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