Recovery – nutrition essentials for better performance

Between each workout, game or race the body needs to adapt to the physiological stress that has just been applied, so that it can recover and become fitter, stronger and faster. This can be challenging when an athlete has two or more session each day, for prolonged training periods and for multiple event sports.

What’s happening during recovery?

  • refuelling of muscle and carbohydrate stores
  • replacing fluids and electrolytes lost in sweat
  • manufacturing new muscle protein and blood cells
  • allowing immune system to manage damage caused by exercise

Nutritional management of recovery:

  1. Replace muscle carbohydrate (glycogen) – with in 1 hour of exercise: 1-2g/kg – this is when carbs are most efficiently utilised by the muscles. This is especially important if the next training session is within 8 hours.
  2. Rehydrate – dehydration negatively impacts on performance during subsequent sessions. Aim to replace fluids lost with 120% fluids with electrolytes. Sodium reduces urine losses and induces thirst, therefore encouraging increased fluid intake.
  3. Build and repair muscle – High intensity exercise leads to breakdown of the muscle. The recovery phase is an opportunity for building muscle. 15-25g high quality protein within 1 hour increases muscle building. Adding carbohydrate enhances recovery of muscle by reducing muscle breakdown.
  4. Protect immunity – immunity is suppressed by intense training, making athletes more susceptible to infectious illnesses. Carbohydrate is an immune protector as it reduces the stress hormone response to exercise. Carbohydrate also fuels the activity of the immune system’s white cells.

Supplements for recovery

Many athletes rely on sports supplements during and immediately post exercise, then double up with a meal soon after. This is fine if there are very large calorie needs, however, for moderate to low energy needs this is excessive. Food provides the same plus additional benefits to supplements eg. iron, calcium, fibre, antioxidants etc.

Good foods for recovery – providing carbohydrate & protein:

Rice pudding, milkshake, breakfast cereal with milk, beans on toast, cheese roll, jacket potato with cottage cheese, tuna wrap. Any balanced meal with protein, carbs and veg.


Post exercise shakes have their place, but watch the extra calories!


Next blog post: Recovery shakes – when to take, a comparison of the most popular, and making your own in one minute.


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