- Home Article - 5 Top Aspects of Recovery Eating & The Situations to Use Them
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Head of Sports Nutrition, Australian Institute of Sport
Recovery has become an industry with athletes now having access to Recovery Centres, Recovery Experts, Recovery Drinks and Recovery Bars. A benefit of this interest is the spotlight given to sports nutrition. But the downside is that many athletes have come to consider recovery eating as a ‘One-Size- Fits-All’, ‘Must-Do-at-Every- Opportunity’ activity. At best, misguided recovery eating practices cause a drain on the wallet. Unfortunately, at times, they may actually lead to nutrition problems such as weight gain due to unnecessary or excessive intake of kilojoules or even a failure to promote optimal recovery and adaptation to a training program.
Recovery between exercise sessions may have two separate goals:
Obviously, the chief focus between games or races in a competition schedule is to bounce back as quickly as possible to optimal performance levels – or at least a performance level than is better than that of your opponent or fellow competitors. In the case of key training sessions, the focus of recovery eating may shift more to the second goal of adaptation. Of course, some light workouts or easy competition scenarios may not create any major demands at all.
A further differentiation in recovery eating arises from the variation in physiological stresses encountered in each workout or event. Each session differs in how much you sweat, use up muscle fuel stores, stimulate protein synthesis, or cause damage and disruption to the body. Therefore, different types and amounts of nutrients will be needed to restore normal status. How important it is to deliver those nutrients to the body as soon as possible will depend on whether these nutrients are handled differently in the post-exercise phase and how long it will take to achieve restoration. The bottom line is that each session deserves its own recovery eating plan, and this may differ from athlete to athlete.
In this series, we look at each of the main elements of recovery and now nutrition should be arranged to tackle it. In each case, we will consider:
A universal theme will be the cost benefit analysis of aggressive intake of nutrients after a session of exercise. A universal problem will be whether the athlete can afford to eat extra foods or more expensive food choices to match their Recovey Eating goals. And finally, a universal strategy may be that if it isn’t possible or sensible to add extra Recovery eating to the day, the athlete should consider changing their exercise schedule so that it occurs just before their usual meal pattern.
IN OTHER WORDS, IF THERE IS NO OPPORTUNITY TO BRING NEW FOOD TO THE EXERCISE SESSION, THEN TAKE THE EXERCISE SESSION TO THE FOOD!
Exercise that is demanding in terms of length and/or intensity depletes muscle glycogen stores; restoration of this critical muscle fuel is important if the athlete has to back up for another demanding session. Refuelling is dependent on the supply of carbohydrate from foods and drinks, and in the absence of carbohydrate intake, there is little glycogen synthesis after exercise has finished. In other words, refueling can’t occur until the right recovery eating starts. Even when a carbohydrate supply is available, muscle glycogen restores at a rate of about 5% per hour – although a bit faster in the first couple of hours of recovery. Therefore, it can take around 24 hours for a depleted muscle to refill its glycogen stores. If there is plenty of time between workouts or games, it may not matter if you lose a couple of hours of active refueling. On the other hand, with a challenging turnaround, it makes sense to start refueling as early as possible to make every moment of recovery effective and to take advantage of higher rates of glycogen storage in the early recovery hours.
Carbohydrate-rich selections include
Mix and match these items into meals such as
Compact forms of carbohydrate (useful when appetites are low, the gut is full/uncomfortable, or it is impractical to prepare/eat real foods)