Eating right after a workout or training session is essential in maximizing your recovery. For high-intensity, long-lasting cardio workout, such as a long cycling training session or a 10-mile run, post-exercise carbohydrates are critical. You might be tempted to go for the convenience of a meal-replacement bar or drink, but opting for a whole food, such as brown rice, after a workout provides you with fiber and naturally occurring vitamins and minerals -- compounds that could be missing in processed products.
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Consuming carbohydrates within 15 to 60 minutes after a hard cardio session is important because your body is most efficient at replacing its glycogen, or energy, stores during this window, explains renowned coach Chris Carmichael in “Food for Fitness.” Glycogen restoration happens at a quicker rate right after exercise because your stores are empty and your blood flow is still high. Your body converts carbohydrates to glycogen to refill your muscles. Brown rice is a source of carbohydrates, with about 46 grams per cooked cup of the medium-grain variety.
You should aim for about 0.75 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight within 15 to 30 minutes of your session. For a 140-pound athlete, you need about 105 grams of carbs. Carmichael recommends that you continue to eat this amount for every two hours for the next four to six hours. You can fulfill this amount with about 2 1/4 cups of brown rice at each feeding.
While carbohydrates are important, you can combine a little protein with your recovery meal to result in even better muscle refueling. Nancy Clark, American Dietetic Association sports nutritionist and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, told USA Today in February 2009 that combining carbohydrate and protein can better facilitate glycogen restoration and reduce the stress hormone cortisol, which breaks down muscle. Protein also helps to facilitate muscle repair -- not just the refueling of the glycogen. Experiment with the ratio of carbohydrates to protein that works for you -- you might try four parts carbs to one part protein or two parts carbs to one part protein. For a 140-pound athlete, the post-workout meal could be 2 1/4 cups of brown rice with a 1/2 cup of chopped, roasted chicken breast, which adds 21 grams of protein.
Without a carb-rich snack like brown rice, your recovery after a workout can take longer -- up to 72 hours, says Carmichael. You only need a large carb and protein meal after a hard, long exercise session. Running a 5K or using an elliptical trainer for 30 minutes doesn’t tax your system as severely.