Your choices in the hours after your workout will either enhance the effect of that workout or detract from it. It’s up to you. Many athletes put great emphasis on completing high-quality workouts only to shortchange their progress by making silly mistakes after. Here are 7 of the worst post-workout choices you can make.
Failing to rehydrate
We can debate whether you need to prioritize eating after a workout (depends on the duration and intensity of the workout and how soon you’ll be training again), but there’s no debate about the need to rehydrate after training. Even if you drink diligently during training, virtually no one completes a workout fully hydrated. And even if you did, there’s no downside to consuming water after training anyway. You don’t need to guzzle huge volumes of liquid, but you do want to replenish 150% of any weight you lost during training within the four hours after training.
I’ve written previously about the “Top 3 Myths About Post-Workout Protein and Recovery” and “The Pros and Cons of Protein Powder for Endurance Athletes“. The quick summary is that endurance athletes don’t need massive amounts of protein to recover or maintain muscle mass. Most endurance athletes get all they need by consuming 1.2-1.7 grams per kilogram per day from real food. Older athletes (50+) may benefit from slightly higher protein intake, up to 1.7-2.0 g/kg/day. It’s also best for protein intake to be spread throughout the day, rather than concentrated in one meal or directly after training.
Endurance athletes rarely need a protein-focused post-workout recovery drink. If you reach for a post-workout shake or recovery drink, choose one that delivers more carbohydrate than protein. The exact carb:protein ratio is less important than the concept replenishing carbohydrate is the priority and adding protein to the drink may accelerate glycogen replenishment.
It is also important to realize recovery drinks are best saved for your longer and more strenuous training days. For cyclists I like to see an athlete accumulate 1500 kilojoules of work before considering a recovery shake, particularly if there’s another training session or competition the following day.
Hanging around in wet gear
Training is hard on the skin, and staying in your sweaty gear only makes matters worse. During cool weather, staying in sweaty gear will also make you cold quickly. Get out of your gear, towel off and/or use a waterless body wash, and put on dry clothing. If this means changing in or around your car, one tip I still use from racing days is to place a back seat floor mat on the ground next to the car so I have something clean and soft to stand on.
Eating a Huge meal
There are two reasons you shouldn’t consume a massive meal in response to a hard or long workout. Number one, it establishes a bad expectation that big efforts will be rewarded by big meals. Our expectations for a meal play a large role in determining how much we eat. Think about Thanksgiving dinner. You expect to eat a lot, therefore you do. When you spend the final hour of a long endurance workout dreaming about a burrito the size of your head, guess what you’re going to eat? And don’t expect to stop eating when you feel full. We have been trained since childhood to finish what’s on our plates. When you couple the power of expectation with the social and financial pressure to finish what’s on the plate, you are very likely to eat everything in front of you.
The second reason it’s a bad idea to gorge yourself with a big meal immediately after training is that a normal-sized meal will meet all the goals for post-workout nutrition. It would be one thing if a huge post-workout meal reduced caloric consumption later in the day, but it doesn’t. You’re not likely to reduce the size of subsequent meals based on the fact you ate a large post-workout meal, which means you end the day with greater overall caloric consumption than necessary.
Sitting still for too long
Whether it’s collapsing on the couch to watch sports for the rest of the afternoon, jumping into a car for the long drive home, or sitting on an airplane for hours, a long stretch of sitting is a recipe for feeling stiff and sluggish. You don’t need to be constantly moving, but it’s a good idea to get up and walk around every 30 minutes or so rather than sitting still for hours. If you have a long drive home after a weekend event, stopping for walking breaks once an hour will help you feel a lot better when you get home.
Doing strenuous chores
While sitting around doing nothing isn’t a great option, neither is a huge landscaping project. Light activity is good for recovery, but strenuous activity in the hours after training hinders sport-specific recovery. If you go out for a hard ride or run in the morning, keep your afternoon activities light. If your spouse has a problem with that, just tell her/him I told you it was the best thing to do for your fitness.
A post-ride beer is a great tradition, and we’ll have plenty of beer at the finish of the CTS Figueroa Mountain Gran Fondo in November. But it’s one thing to have a celebratory post-even beer and another to consume alcohol following a purposeful training session. Alcohol does not aid in post-workout recovery and it doesn’t help you rehydrate. If you want to benefit from the training session you just completed, stick with water and non-alcoholic drinks.
When you make the commitment to spend your time and energy training to improve performance, don’t shortchange your progress by making silly mistakes once the workout is over.
Take care of yourself,
CEO/Head Coach of CTS