Post-exercise nutrition: Why your workouts shouldn't stop with a cool-down

One of the hottest areas of sports nutrition research these days has to do with the benefits of immediate post-workout nutrition intake.

In the past few years, university studies have proven the following facts about immediate post-workout carbohydrate consumption:

  • It results in rapid replenishment of muscle and liver glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrate in the body).

  • It results in much faster and more complete glycogen replenishment than consumption of an equal amount of carbohydrate beginning two hours or more after exercise.

  • It results in better performance in a subsequent workout than consumption of an equal amount of carbohydrate beginning two hours or more after exercise.

    Other studies have demonstrated the following benefits of immediate post-workout protein consumption:

  • It results in rapid repair and rebuilding of muscle tissue damaged or broken down during the workout.

  • It results in much faster and more complete muscle tissue repair and rebuilding than consumption of an equal amount of protein beginning two hours or more after exercise.

  • It reduces muscle soreness and improves muscle function during the recovery period.

    Still other studies have shown that when carbohydrate and protein are consumed together after a workout, carbohydrate enhances the benefits of protein, and protein enhances the benefits of carbohydrate.

    Until recently, however, no study had looked at the long-term effects of regular post-exercise protein and carbohydrate consumption. But a new study led by researchers at Iowa State University did investigate these effects, and produced some very interesting results.

    In this new study, Marine recruits representing six platoons were assigned to one of three treatment protocols during 54 days of basic training. Each day after exercise, some Marines received a placebo drink containing 0 calories, others received a control drink contain 8 grams of carbohydrate and 3 grams of fat, and others received a drink containing 8 grams of carbohydrate, 10 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fat.

    The investigators report that, "Compared to placebo and control groups, the protein supplemented group had an average of 33% fewer total medical visits, 28% fewer visits due to bacterial/viral infections, 37% fewer visits due to muscle/joint problems, and 83% fewer visits due to heat exhaustion."

    In addition, "Muscle soreness immediately post-exercise was reduced by protein supplementation versus placebo and control groups on both days 34 and 54."

    The relevance of these extraordinary findings to athletes is clear. This new evidence indicates that athletes in heavy training will maintain a higher level of health and performance if they consume a carbohydrate-protein liquid supplement immediately following each workout.

    Indeed, based on all we now know, post-workout supplementation should be considered a part of the workout itself.

    Until this time, athletes have been encouraged not to consider their workout completed until they have performed a proper cool-down. Now it's time to extend the definition of a complete workout to include immediate post-cool-down nutrition.

    Matt Fitzgerald is the author of "Triathlete Magazine's Complete Triathlon Book." He coaches runners and triathletes online through Carmichael Training Systems (

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