A research paper has looked at the benefits of combining carbohydrate and protein after exercise to aid recovery.

A recent study in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise has looked at the difference between those who eat a mixed meal after exercise and those who eat just carbohydrate. This study also, however, explores when to eat after exercise comparing two methods; nibbling or gorging.

What the researchers did

Six male cyclists performed a sixty minute time trial two hours after breakfast, all ingesting a meal contributing 7 calories (kcal) for each kilogram they weighed. This was a mix of protein (0.3g per kilogram), Carbohydrate (1.2g per kilogram) and fat (0.1g per kilogram). To put this into perspective, for a 70kg cyclists this would equate to a 490 calorie breakfast with 21grams of protein, 84 grams of carbohydrate and 7grams of fat.

After their hour cycling they had their glycogen (stored carbohydrate) levels tested. After this point they were all subject to different food intakes. Group one ingested a recovery drink of pure carbohydrate base and group two ingested a mixed beverage with both protein and carbohydrate. Group three had nothing at this stage.

Two hours after exercise the group repeated this recovery intake and then four hours after exercise all three groups had a plated meal. Group one and two had a meal identical to breakfast and group three had a much larger meal to equal the calorie intake of the other two groups in total. After this glycogen levels were once again tested.

Conclusions

The researchers essentially mimicked two differing recovery strategies. Many cyclists and athletes in general do not eat after exercise as they do not feel hungry, only eating when they again feel hungry a few hours later. Others will nibble on foods with some using sports nutrition recovery products. What the study concluded was that the stored glycogen in the muscles in group two, ingesting a mix of protein and carbohydrate in repeated small supplements or meals after exercise, was higher than that of the other two groups.

Layman lowdown

For best recovery aim to ingest a mixed protein and carbohydrate meal as soon as possible after exercise, but don?t aim to replace all of the calories burned. In this study this was equal to 336 calories for a 70kg cyclist.

Two hours after exercise another 336 calories were ingested (this could be in the form of lunch) and 490 calories four hours later, maybe in the form of dinner. This pattern of nibbling rather than waiting and then gorging at dinner time, is more effective as a recovery strategy, improving the transport of carbohydrate to the muscles so you can get out there on the bike in fine form the following day.