During exercise, our bodies mostly use carbohydrates (stored glycogen and blood glucose) and some fat for energy. We also lose fluid through sweat and expiration and repeated muscle contractions during exercise create tiny tears in your muscles that need repairing. The duration and intensity of your exercise and your body composition goals determine whether you need specific recovery strategies or whether your normal food intake will be sufficient for recovery.
You should have a recovery nutrition plan if you are completing multiple training sessions in a day or within 8 hours of your previous session (e.g. Monday night and Tuesday morning). Additionally, if you compete and your training sessions are longer than one hour duration, you should have a recovery nutrition plan. Inadequate recovery can lead to greater fatigue and reduced exercise performance.
When re-fuelling post-exercise, remember the 3 R’s – Refuel, repair and re-hydrate.
Refuel and Repair:
A more aggressive refuelling plan is required when your next session is within 8h of your last. The body is best at using nutrients in the first 60-90mins following exercise so if there is a quick turnaround until your next session, consume your recovery meal within the first 60-90mins. However, higher rates of nutrient absorption last for around 12h so if there is no urgency for refueling, a small snack may be suitable soon after you finish and then your first main meal after your session can be your recovery meal. The first recovery meal should be rich in carbohydrate, contain lean protein and also electrolytes. Additional snacks may also be required over the next day to adequately refuel.
Individual preference or tolerance will determine the most suitable option. Suggestions include:
- Egg and salad roll
- Toasted meat and cheese sandwich
- Muesli with yoghurt and berries
- Fresh fruit salad topped with yoghurt or fruit smoothie
- Spaghetti bolognaise
- Tin of tuna on crackers plus a banana
- Smoked salmon and avocado on toast
Rehydration should commence at completion of your session. It is a good idea to work out your usual fluid losses so you know what you need to replace afterwards. For sessions 1h duration or less, water is the most appropriate fluid choice; there is no need to consume sports drinks for sessions <1h. If you have a quick turnaround before your next session, sports drinks may be beneficial as they help with both rehydration and refuelling. Your body can only absorb so much fluid at once so it is more beneficial to consume small amounts frequently rather than large amounts less often.
An Accredited Sports Dietitian can help with an appropriate recovery plan. Plans are tailored to your training schedule and fluid and electrolyte losses.