5 TOP ASPECTS OF RECOVERY EATING & THE SITUATIONS TO USE THEM
Head of Sports Nutrition, Australian Institute of Sport
ALL SESSIONS HAVE SPECIFIC NEEDS AND DESERVE A SEPARATE PLAN...
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:
- RESTORATION of body losses/changes caused by the first session to restore performance levels for the next
- ADAPTIVE RESPONSES to the stress/stimulus provided by the session to gradually make the body become better at the features of exercise that are important for performance.
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:
- guidelines that promote aggressive recovery of this element
- food choices that can help to meet these guidelines and targets,
- situations in which these Recovery Eating targets should be a priority
- situations in which Recovery Eating is not as important (and may be expendable).
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.
Pro-Active Refuelling In A Nut Shell
Strategies to maximise
- Start consuming carbohydrate soon after the session finishes. Aim for a Recovery Snack/Meal providing carbohydrate equal to ~ 1 g per kg body weight (e.g. ~ 50 g for 50 kg female, 80 g for 80 kg male)
- Continue with more snacks, drinks or meals to achieve a carbohydrate target of 1 g/kg per hour for the first 4 hours of recovery, then resume an eating pattern that meets overall fuel and energy goals.
Suitable choices for pro-active refuelling
Carbohydrate-rich selections include
- Breads (including rolls, wraps, bagels, muffins and pizza bases)
- Cereals (porridge, packaged cereals and bircher muesli)
- Grains (rice, pasta, noodles, quinoa and couscous)
- Sweetened dairy (flavoured milk, flavoured yoghurt, custard)
- Fruits, starchy vegetables (potatoes) and legumes (baked beans, kidney beans and lentils)
Mix and match these items into meals such as
- Cereal with fruit
- Baked beans on toast
- Sandwiches/rolls/focaccia/wraps/pizza with thick portions of the bread
- Fruit smoothies (blended fruit, milk and yoghurt or icecream)
- Meals served with grains (curry and rice, pasta with sauce, stirfry with noodles) or where the grain is a major ingredient (pasta bake, risotto, paella)
- Desserts (cake/pudding with custard, fruit with yoghurt, crumbles with icecream
Compact forms of carbohydrate (useful when appetites are low, the gut is full/uncomfortable, or it is impractical to prepare/eat real foods)
- Sports drinks, liquid meals, gels and bars
- Jam, honey and other sugary toppings
- Juices and soft drinks
- Maximises muscle fuel for next demanding workout or event
WHEN SHOULD YOU DO IT?
- After races or fuel depleting training sessions when you are backing up for the next session in 8 hours or less
- When total fuel needs are high – high volume training, demanding competition schedule (e.g. cycling tour, tennis tournament)
- May encourage the athlete to eat more kilojoules than needed (leading to weight gain) or a pattern of eating that is more risky for dental health
- May encourage the athlete to choose nutrient-poor foods since these are more accessible or easy to eat immediately after exercise
- May reduce the period of enhanced adaptation after exercise – there is a new theory that delaying the replacement of glycogen may allow the muscle to stay in an active state of adaptation for longer. Watch this space!
WHEN IS IT EXPENDABLE?
- When sessions are light or low in intensity and muscle glycogen isn’t likely to become depleted or limit performance
- When the available Recovery Eating choices are low in nutritional value, and it makes more sense to wait a little until you can have a more nutritious meal