An important challenge for the implementation of network coding in IEEE 802.11-based wireless networks is to give additional priority for channel access to the relay stations responsible for coding. These relay stations are able to provide more information in a single transmission than those that forward single packets, hence improving throughput and energy efficiency. The Distributed Coordination Function (DCF) of the IEEE 802.11 standard is a contention-based Medium Access Control (MAC) protocol that provides an equal distribution of channel access opportunities for all competing stations. However, the relay station represents a congestion point and additional transmission slots should be assigned to it to increase the overall network performance. To address this issue we investigate a coding-aware MAC protocol, called Reverse Direction DCF (RD-DCF), which enables bidirectional communications between the relay station and another station with a single channel access invocation. This simple and backwards compatible mechanism allows the relay station to transmit a coded packet together with the acknowledgement immediately after receiving a data packet. The simulation results show a gain of up to 130% in terms of both throughput and energy efficiency for RD-DCF with network coding when compared to DCF.