You may feel that you have worked out to the max during your sessions burning 100s of calories, so does it really matter if you have some crisps, chocolate, a danish pastry or chips? Time and time again, research shows that the answer is “yes”. Replacing calories isn’t the only objective of recovery.
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. Whether you are a triathlete, a gym addict, or your child is playing in a weekend rugby tournament, optimum recovery nutrition can help you to perform better in the short and long term.
There are many ‘recovery drinks’ and powders marketed for refuelling after exercise. While
these have their place, they are not necessarily the best option. It can be argued that real food is the best fuel for recovery, providing everything that a recovery drink can, as well as all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals etc that simply cannot be bottled or made in to a powder.
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
What are the recovery ‘rules’?
- multiple daily exercise sessions – if less than 24 hours until next session e.g. professional athletes, weekend rugby tournament, compulsive gym exercisers: recovery nutrition after your session ASAP, ideally within an hour. If next session starts within an hour, recovery drinks or anything low fibre and low fat to help with faster digestion (lasagne not a good option!)
- more than 24 hours between exercise sessions – generally no need to eat soon after exercise, try to have your next usual meal. consisting of some protein and carbohydrate. If trying to gain muscle, then you can add a recovery snack to fuel this catabolic process. If trying to lose weight and hungry after training, be careful not to increase overall daily calorie intake. Have something light to eat e.g. yogurt.
Why carbs & protein are important
Immediately post exercise, good recovery nutrition will consist of protein & carbohydrate. Aim for 1g carbohydrate per kg of body weight, and approximately 25g protein (a chicken breast is about 25-30g, a mug full of rice is about 70g carbohydrate). Unfortunately, eating lots of extra protein does not make bigger muscles.
Carbs and protein work together: carbs help to shuttle protein in to the muscles, and protein helps to stimulate faster muscle glycogen replacement. Low fat helps the food to be absorbed more quickly, as does low fibre (so don’t be too concerned about choosing ‘healthy’ whole grain carbs like whole wheat bread). Fruit & veg can be included in the next meal to provide antioxidants.
If you don’t feel like eating food or don’t have the time or facilities, then recovery drinks or shop bought milkshakes can be useful. Here is a more in-depth look at some of the most popular commercial recovery drinks. If you are trying to lose weight, then watch the calories……..don’t increase overall calories through the day.
10 snack foods for fast recovery:
330ml Milkshake – e.g. Yazoo, Frijj, For Goodness Shakes
Homemade recovery smoothie
Bagel with peanut butter
Breakfast cereal with milk e.g Cornflakes, Rice Krispies, Cheerios
2 Eggs on 2 white toast
Sandwich/roll/wrap/pitta: filled with chicken, fish or eggs
Jacket potato with cottage cheese/tin of tuna/Baked Beans
Yogurt & Banana
Homemade Seriously Healthy Flapjacks