Whether you just completed a workout or you are coming off the track at an endurance event, recovery nutrition is an important step in your performance regime. After prolonged exercise, many events start to occur in your body. Your stress hormones are elevated, the muscle and liver glycogen is depleted, fuel and fluid levels are low, and insulin levels are low. If this is left unattended, you could have increased muscle soreness, extended fatigue, low energy, and a decrease in your next performance. The goal of recovery nutrition is to replace those nutrients and fluids that were used up during your workout to get your body back in tip top shape. Recovery aims to stop muscle breakdown, replenish glycogen stores for energy, have a positive effect on your immune system, and rehydrate your body. It is one of the biggest steps that an athlete may forget to do and can make a world of difference in their next performance.
There are two main components you need to focus on for proper recovery: Nutrients and Timing.
Those nutrients of most importance are carbohydrates, protein, and fluid. Together they work to refuel, repair, and rehydrate your body after exercise.
- Fluid: As mentioned in a previous vlog, if you have been sweating you have been losing fluids. And even for some of you who don’t sweat very much at all, a workout can still dehydrate you. I have discussed the importance of hydrating during exercise, but also keep in mind that hydrating after exercise is just as important. Basically, don’t forget so you can ensure your body doesn’t dry up (and can still perform, obviously).
- Carbs/Pro: Having both carbohydrates and protein together is a top notch plan to refuel and repair muscles by enhancing glycogen synthesis and the remodeling of muscles proteins. So, no, your straight protein shake doesn’t count and neither would a handful of gummy bears! The benefit of having carbohydrate and protein together is that it will stimulate endogenous insulin release and result in similar glycogen replenishment rates as if carbohydrate was consumed alone. The double whammy of this combo is that protein also works to repair those worked muscles and promotes muscle protein synthesis, so it is a win win! For an endurance athlete, it is recommended to have 1-1.5g/kg body weight of carbohydrates and about 15-25 g protein immediately post exercise. Make sure to be prepared and have something on hand!
Next is timing. While research has noted the benefits to an athlete’s recovery in terms of the nutrients they need, there has also been promising research in the area of the time in which those nutrients are consumed in relation to exercise for enhanced recovery status. That sounds that a whole lot of mumbo jumbo. Basically, there is a small window for you to eat your carb/pro snack after exercise or an event for optimal recovery. When would this be exactly? Within 30 minutes of stopping exercise it is recommended that you refuel with all those important nutrients I have mentioned. This short time frame is due to your muscles being most receptive to uptake of nutrients immediately after they have been exercised. So timing is key! If you think you may not be able to make it home before the 30 minutes is up, be sure to bring something with you ahead of time. And recovery doesn’t stop there, especially for you intense endurance event runners. It is also suggested to then continue to properly refuel your body with balanced meals or larger snacks for 4-6 hours after an event. So, that’s one snack and a meal after your prolonged workout or a couple of meals after your event. This can also be forgotten, so make sure you are prepared to pay back and replenish your body for everything it just did for you!
Now you may be wondering what a proper recovery snack looks like. Well, there is a reason that chocolate milk is all the rage in the world of sports and performance nutrition these days. It is a triple threat as it has carbohydrates, protein, and fluid all in one handy product. About one cup within 30 minutes after a workout is enough to start your body moving along the recovery process. But, if you’re not big on milk, you can also use: a protein shake mixed with some yogurt, whole wheat tortilla with banana and peanut butter, Greek yogurt and fruit, pretzels and cottage cheese, toast and eggs, crackers and tuna, fruit and nuts/cheese, and the list could go on! Choose something that will meet your needs but also not cause a huge pain in your side to bring along or have available after a workout. Convenience shouldn’t be overlooked and your own taste preference ought to be considered. Use what works for you!
Post exercise nutrition and hydration are a crucial part of an athlete’s recovery no matter what your sport and has been shown to positively affect subsequent exercise performances. For endurance athletes, it is crucial to protect, repair, and energize your muscles for the next training session or to thank them for a long days’ work at an event. As soon as you stop moving, having something to eat and drink is a top priority. Carbohydrates, protein, and fluids all play a role in refueling, repairing, and rehydrating and timing is there to ensure it is working in the most efficient way possible.
For an individualized and tailored recovery plan that suits your sport and requirements, contact a sports dietitian near you or come see me at STRIDE.
Happy race day, everyone!
– Beck, K. L., Thomson, J. S., Swift, R. J., & von Hurst, P. R. (2015). Role of nutrition in performance enhancement and postexercise recovery. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, 6, 259–267. http://doi.org/10.2147/OAJSM.S33605
– Burke, L., & Deakin, V. (2015). Clinical Sports Nutrition. 5th ed. McGraw-Hill Education (Australia) Pty Ltd.
– Moore, D. (2015). Nutrition to support recovery from endurance exercise: optimal carbohydrate and protein replacement. Current Sports Medicine Reports: American College of Sports Medicine, 14(4): 294-300. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000180
– Position of Dietitians of Cananda, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American College of Sports Medicine. (2016). Nutrition and Athletic Performance. www.dietitians.ca/sports