The ins and outs of recovery nutrition

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You’ve just finished a training session, and you’re exhausted, sore and getting hungry – sound familiar? For some people, the first thing they think of post-exercise is food, and for others, food is the last thing on their mind. But what is the right way to recover post exercise? Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Sports Dietitian, Samantha Lewis looks into what our bodies actually need to refuel.

First things first – we know without a shadow of a doubt, that adequate nutrition is a huge factor for recovering optimally. Including a recovery meal or snack post-exercise can optimise training adaptations, refuel the body, help with muscle recovery, repair and growth, and support adequate rehydration. I am often presented though, with questions relating to what and when to eat after exercise and knowing the answers to these questions is very handy!

Nutrient timing

For optimal, efficient recovery, it is recommended that you consume a meal or snack within 30-60 minutes of finishing training. The sooner your next session is, and the harder your training is, the sooner this meal or snack should take place.

Do supplements have a place?

The topic of supplements is incredibly complex, but also prevalent in the health and fitness world. Protein supplements appear to be the most commonly discussed, and if you are monitoring your total calorie intake, or need a fast option, these can be a good way to recover well. Whey protein supplements are usually my recommendation, as they are quickly absorbed, are well-tolerated (though they are usually dairy based), and have a high leucine content (leucine is an amino acid that supports muscle protein synthesis). Two important considerations around protein supplementation: these usually have a very low carbohydrate content, so consider where your carbohydrates are coming from, and ensure a proper meal soon after! Also, keep in mind that protein supplements aren’t essential for recovery. Food is a great option, and many other nutritional needs can be met this way too.

Overall, optimal recovery can be achieved through the consumption of some protein, carbohydrates, and adequate fluid replacement. Different food combinations, and in some cases supplements, can meet these needs, however for personalised advice, chat with your sports dietitian. For me, though? A bowl of cereal with Greek yoghurt and a banana certainly ticks all the of the recovery (and taste) boxes!

Meal and snack examples, containing approx. 50g of carbohydrate and 15-20g of protein:

  • ½ cup rolled oats + 2/3 cup skim milk + a banana
  • 1 cup of boiled brown rice + 60g chicken breast (plus non-starchy vegetables or salad)
  • 1 grainy sandwich with lean ham, a slice of cheese and salad + a piece of fruit.
  • 200g flavoured Greek yoghurt + 1 large banana + ¼ cup blueberries.
  • 3 eggs on 2 slices of toast + ½ cup (125ml) 100% fruit juice