Although most athletes are pretty knowledgeable on the nutritional requirements to prepare for training and competition, the importance of recovery is often ignored. In order to reach optimal performance, an athlete must recover effectively from the extreme exercise stimuli they take part in. For this reason, nutritional intake before, during and after training, as well as on competition day, is imperative. Without adequate refuelling between training sessions, the capacity to maintain daily training intensities and volumes can be impaired, and if this is practised long-term, it can lead to fatigue, over-training, illness, burn-out and injury. Furthermore, it is within this recovery period that the muscle adapts to the stress of training, and therefore, it is important that the muscles are provided with the correct types and amount of nutrients to support adaptation, growth and repair.
From a nutritional perspective, recovery takes on 3 main goals, sometimes referred to as the 3 “R’s”. These include; replenishing muscle glycogen stores (achieved by high carbohydrate intake), rehydration (by consuming electrolyte containing drinks) and promoting muscle repair and reducing soreness (facilitated by the intake of high quality protein). In fact, many athletes fail to incorporate all three of these and especially for endurance athletes, post-exercise protein intake in supporting muscle recovery is by far the most underappreciated aspect of recovery. As such, it is high quality and rapidly digestible protein sources (such as whey) that contain the vital building blocks (amino acids) to promote muscle repair, re-conditioning and reduce the extent of muscle soreness that is experienced after an intense training session or competition.
It is important that recovery should begin immediately after a session (< 1 hour), as this is when the muscle is most receptive in taking in nutrients. This window of opportunity is where enzymes and transporters in the muscle – responsible for glycogen and protein synthesis are more active – and delaying this feed could reduce short-term energy replenishment by up to 50%. As a general rule of thumb, 20-30g of protein (rich in leucine) should be consumed with approximately 1g of carbohydrate (high GI such as dextrose) per kg of body weight. Rehydration through appropriate electrolyte solutions is also essential for recovery, and it is advised to consume 1.5L of water for every kg of body weight lost during an intense training session. This will reduce muscle cramps and prevent any effects of dehydration which could lead to impaired performance.
Although the immediate hour after exercise is essential for recovery, it is the subsequent meals following training and on rest days that should also be taken into consideration. This is to ensure that the muscle has sufficient nutrients to help promote muscle growth and repair. For this reason, a typical athletes diet will usually consist of high protein based meals throughout the day (1.5-2g per kg of body weight; 20-30g every 2-3hours) coming mainly from lean meat, fish, dairy, and perhaps one or two additional supplements (such as whey and casein), as well as accommodating a high amount of protein (~20g) either side of training. This will ensure that protein breakdown is reduced and muscle protein synthesis is elevated to maximise the anabolic response. Carbohydrate intake will depend highly on specific training goals, periodisation of training, and type of exercise carried out. The diet should mainly consist of low-med GI carbohydrates on rest days and then high GI types of foods should be used post work-out to maximise muscle energy replenishment.
In summary, to ensure that you always get the best from your training, you should pay particular attention to your nutritional strategy as soon as you finish every work-out. A blend of high GI carbohydrate (replenish), protein (repair) and fluid (rehydrate) consumed within the hour after finishing exercise will help you to achieve your required training goals and help to optimise overall performance.
Ultimate Post-Workout Steak
• Seasoned rump steak with rosemary, griddled in beef dripping fat – Excellent source of BCAA’s – in particular leucine (main signalling protein for lean muscle growth). Beef dripping will also provide healthy saturated fats as well as being a heat stable fat to cook with.
• Crushed new potatoes with melted stilton – High GI carbohydrates to replenish depleted energy stores. A small amount of stilton will give a huge amount of flavour to the dish.
• Mixed vegetables (tenderstem broccoli, green beans, spinach, and garlic) sautéed in coconut oil – A range of nutrient dense carbohydrates providing a good amount of dietary fibre. Coconut oil is heat stable as it’s made up of medium chain triglycerides (lauric acid). These have antifungal and antimicrobial properties protecting against pathogenic bacteria in the gut.