Post Exercise Nutrition and Which Whey?

October 29, 2014

Post exercise nutrition is critical to enhance recovery and performance for both endurance and resistance training athletes. If you neglect this aspect of your training program then you are self-imposing an unnecessary limiting factor.


Nutrition as a Limiting Factor

The most common limiting factors when it comes to body composition or sports performance are genetics, exercise or training, and nutrition.


Our genetic makeup will prevent us from ever winning an Olympic Gold medal or scrimmaging up against BOD (sigh), but it’s highly unlikely that it’s a hindering factor when it comes to changing body composition or our (non-elite) sporting capabilities.


Exercise alone usually isn’t enough to change our body composition. People often spend hundreds of Euro a year slogging away in the gym only to become slightly less overweight and slightly less unhealthy. Slightly is a waste of time and money. As for sports performance, your training is only ever a limiting factor when you simply don’t do it.


The real limiting factor for people is not their genes, it’s not their training program - it’s what they are eating, or what they’re not eating in most cases.


Sports Nutrition in a Nutshell

In a way, the field of sports nutrition is similar to fad diets and weight loss - they both fall victim to a myriad of marketing hype. There are as many myths and fallacies surrounding sports nutrition as there are with fad diets.


Don’t confuse sports supplements for sports nutrition. Many athletes search for the “magic” ingredient that will provide them with a winning edge. If this “magic” ingredient is harmless, then it is just largely a waste of money.


Before investing your money in any nutrition product, ask yourself the following questions, and if the answer is “yes” then be very sceptical:


  • Is its claim too good to be true and promise quick results?

  • Are celebrities or sports stars used to advertise the product?

  • Does the person recommending the product also sell the product?

  • Does it make claims that are not backed up by studies published in peer-reviewed journals?


Nutrition is a science, a science that relates food to health and diseases. Therefore sports nutrition is a science, one that relates nutrition to athletic performance. However, a lot of sports nutrition products and supplements are not supported by evidence-based or scientific-backed research and are sold under the pretence of false promises.


When designing a diet for sports performance, it should supply the required macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in adequate amounts for tissue maintenance, repair, and growth. Food should be the primary driving vehicle for these nutrients.


While there is a time and place for sports supplements, they’re definitely not the be all of sports nutrition. Eat real food first and foremost. Your health will increase, your performance will improve, and you’ll save yourself a buck or three.


Post-Workout Nutrition

For the endurance athlete, carbohydrates should be consumed post workout to maximize restocking of muscle fuel stores with glycogen – a form of glucose stored in the body for fuel.


A serving of carbohydrates (2-3 cupped handfuls) is best consumed within 30 minutes after exercise for optimal glycogen resynthesis. Another small serving (1-2 cupped handfuls) should be consumed every two hours for 4-6 hours after, as it takes about 4 hours for carbohydrates to be digested and stored in the body.


Adding a small protein source to the carbohydrate helps to promote greater glycogen resynthesis.


Within the 30 minute window post exercise, simple carbohydrates are a good choice, such as sports drinks, cereal bars, and fruit juices. In the subsequent hours, the best sources of dietary carbohydrates are complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, potatoes, rice, oats, vegetables, and fruit.


For the resistance training athlete, ingesting protein is essential for improving body composition by preserving and increasing lean tissue. Carbohydrate is important for replenishing fuel stores, but it’s not necessary on its own in the same way as for an endurance athlete.


A good serving size of protein post exercise for the resistance training athlete is 1-2 palms of lean meat such as chicken, turkey, or beef, fish, eggs, or a high quality protein powder. The optimal timing for protein ingestion is still debatable, but the recommended window is from immediately after up to 3 hours post exercise.


Supplementing protein with a carb source after a heavy resistance training session can enhance the role of protein in promoting muscle repair, increase lean mass and overall improvements in body composition.


High Protein is Safe

Active people need more protein than sedentary people, due to protein breakdown that occurs during exercise and to repair and rebuild muscle post-exercise. A strategically planned protein regime timed around exercise is essential to preserve and build muscle, to ensure proper recovery, to reduce post-exercise soreness, and to sustain a healthy immune system during periods of high-volume training.


The media has been guilty recently of erroneously reporting that a high protein diet is unhealthy and been blamed for increasing osteoporosis and kidney damage. This is untrue. A diet rich in protein is perfectly safe in healthy, active individuals and in fact can offer a protective mechanism against impaired immune function and sarcopenia (loss of muscle) in the elderly.


To reach daily protein requirements, active people and athletes can ingest protein powders to supplement dietary protein from whole foods. It’s a convenient alternative and can be quite cost effective. However, it’s important to choose a high quality protein.


Which Whey?

The best sources of high quality protein supplements are whey, colostrum (milk produced during pregnancy), casein, milk proteins and egg protein.


Whey protein is the most versatile. It comes in two forms – whey isolate and whey concentrate. They’re essentially the same thing, except whey isolate is filtered more than the concentrate. So whey isolate is the purer form of whey.

Whey concentrate is cheaper than isolate; however if you are lactose sensitive then it’s not the best option.


Whey isolate is a purer form of whey and is usually suitable even if you are lactose sensitive; however it is more expensive than concentrate.


If you’re not lactose sensitive then the concentrate should be fine. If you want to splash the cash then go for the isolate.


When buying a whey powder make sure to read the label. If buying a concentrate, look for a minimum of 80g protein per 100g product. If buying an isolate, look for a minimum of 90g protein per product.


Ignore any sales person who tries to sell you protein. In particular, ignore the packaging and marketing hype. You want a whey protein with no added gunk (no added fat burners etc. as they’re a load of nonsense), minimal added sugars, and a minimum 80g protein per 100g product.


I find vanilla flavour the most versatile for mixing with yogurt, making pancakes, using in shakes, and even to use in the odd baked treat!


As always, it is recommended that you first and foremost try to get your carbohydrate and protein requirements from whole foods, and only then should you consider using a good quality supplemental protein, such as whey.


Written by Karen Coghlan, your local Nut Coach.


[As published in The Herald on 27th October 2014 as part of my weekly nutrition column - Look Good Feel Good]


PS If you struggle with your nutrition as an aspiring athlete, I offer 1-2-1 nutrition coaching, tailored to your needs, that will enhance your sports performance. Find out more HERE.


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