Glycogen Window - the key to quick recovery after exercise

Author: Dr. Gary Huber

Date: Jul, 2013

The first 30 minutes after a workout is KEY to your recovery. After working those muscles give the right fuel in the right time frame to optimize recovery and next performance.

 

Exhausting your muscles of energy during a workout might leave you feeling sluggish tomorrow if you don't properly refuel. The glycogen window is a concept that should be understood by every competitive athlete on the planet. But anyone who exercises hard more than 3 times per week is an athlete and would benefit from employing this simple strategy. Lets review the basic concept and understand what the glycogen window is.

 

Simply stated, the glycogen window is that short period of time immediately after a workout or sporting competition when your muscles are most open to receive the valuable nutrients they need to rebuild their energy stores. If you have gone more than 30 minutes post workout without eating then the blood flow to the muscles begins to diminish and getting healthy calories into the muscles becomes increasingly sluggish. If you workout hard again the next day then you might find that your muscles feel fatigued and lack energy to perform. This is why eating the right combination of foods after exercise, AND eating them within 30 minutes after exercise becomes important.

 

Glycogen is simply stored sugar that we have in our liver and muscles. This is the healthy way our body stores energy so don't confuse this with diabetes or health risk. This glycogen is intended to be a reserve fuel source for the body and gets used whenever we exercise. The more we exercise and the harder we train, the more this fuel source gets depleted. Replenishing it is key to recovery and to the development of stronger muscles. The amount of glycogen we are able to store can increase through regular exercise. So regular training will increase our muscle and liver capacity to store more glycogen allowing us to extend or improve our performance over time.

 

So here is the plan: within the 30 minute window following the completion of exercise your goal should be to consume protein, fat and carbohydrates to quickly replenish the muscles need for these valuable nutrients. The amount of protein would be roughly 20 to 30 grams depending on your size. The carbohydrate should be low-glycemic (non sugary) which means avoiding sugary sports drinks, candy, pasta, bread, and other high sugar starches. I will discuss this “low sugar” recommendation later when we discuss growth hormone but for now just avoid it. Your best options include brown rice, beans, fruit, vegetables, nuts and other whole foods. The amount is highly variable depending on how long you were exercising but start with a goal of 20 grams of low-glycemic carbohydrate and increase this as indicated by duration and intensity of your workout. The most important element is that you start this refueling NOW and not wait. The actual amount is an imperfect science and can be resolved with the help of a good dietitian and some trial and error. Don't forget to take in some fat with this. If your protein selection is meat or eggs then this will contain some fat. Nuts are wonderful here because they have monosaturated fat.

 

Studies have also shown that muscle growth in response to exercise is greater when we replenish calories within 30 minutes post exercise compared with waiting to eat hours after the exercise.

 

Here are a few ideas of what I like to use post exercise to refuel:

  1. Protein shake with fruit and vegetable blended in. I add some coconut oil or olive oil for a good fat source.

 

  1. Brown rice and beans with chicken. I prepare this ahead of time and season it with wonderful spices that make it delicious and offer great antioxidant rewards. Beans are one of the highest antioxidant containing foods on the planet.

 

  1. Handful of nuts with an apple or other fruit. This is a convenient start if you have to drive home from your workout and will hold you until you get home for more calories. Vegetables such as carrots, celery, cucumber slices and raw cauliflower, are also possibilities. Starting the process of refueling will keep the glycogen window open longer.

 

  1. Be careful with the use of protein bars as the vast majority of them are high in sugar and 99% of them are made from non-organic fractionated soy. This type of soy is a very unhealthy product and should be avoided. If you need a good protein bar then I have several healthy, organic high protein options in our office

 

  1. Beef or turkey jerky with some fruit is also a good option. Be careful not to buy the MSG chemical laden variety. There is good tasting turkey jerky made without MSG on the market.

 

Employing these strategies will help your ability to recover from a hard effort and net greater gains from your workout.

See the article posted on research done on this topic. Also avoiding high sugar intake right after a workout is important. Your greatest surge of growth hormone comes naturally within the first hour after a workout but sugar intake will reduce this natural response and reduce the helpful aspects of natural growth hormone in your recovery.