Recovery Nutrition : February 9th 2018 : Victoria Prendiville RD 

I recently delivered a talk on recovery nutrition to a local triathlon club so I thought I would pull together a quick post on this subject  as this is such a key topic in Sport Nutrition. As a Sports Dietitian I really love discussing this topic as it’s where the science of sports Nutrition really comes into its own.

Why is Recovery so important to athletes ?

There are three stages to adequate Recovery :-




Rehydration – Fluid is Key!

During exercise we lose fluid in the form of sweat and it’s important to replace this. This process should start during exercise to minimise the effects of dehydration by drinking fluid and electrolytes especially in exercise lasting longer than 90mins duration. It is recommended to rehydrate post exercise with 125-150% of the fluid lost during the course of exercise, for example if you lose 1kg in weight post exercise this would be the equivalent of 1000mls fluid and you should aim to replace 1250-1500mls fluid to rehydrate. To identify your fluid requirements in exercise and your sweat rate a hydration assessment can be an extremely useful tool to use – A sport Dietitian can assist you with this process. An excellent rehydration drink post exercise would be milk, it contains fluid, carbohydrate to kick-start the re-fuelling process (see below) electrolytes, and retains fluid far better than water alone. An alternative to milk would be orange juice diluted with water.

Re-fuelling – Replenish your stores!

Recovering fully following exercise is important as exercise uses fuel for muscular contraction. This fuel is in the form of carbohydrate (stored as glycogen in the liver) and fat (stored in adipose tissue) Exercise depletes the body of these stores and to recover fully these stores need to be replenished. This is particularly important if you train twice a day or have a short gap between training sessions. Undertaking training consistently with inadequate energy stores and not recovering fully can place a strain on the body and increase your risk of illness and injury. To recover fully following exercise it is recommended that you re-fuel with 1g/kg carbohydrate.

Re-building – drive the adaptations!

Exercise opens the window for adaptations that if fuelled adequately by nutrition can improve your performance at a molecular level. For strength and power athletes this can support muscle hypertrophy (building muscle and strength) and for endurance athletes this can support muscle protein synthesis and building more mitochondria, energy producing cells that  improve aerobic performance. To maximise these adaptations it is recommended that 20-30g protein is consumed post exercise and that a healthy balanced diet is consumed with a protein source at each meal. Protein is made from amino acids, animal protein contains all the essential amino acids to build new proteins whereas plant-based proteins do not contain all the essential amino acids required to build new proteins. This means that if you are vegetarian or vegan you should pay close attention to your protein intake to ensure you are consuming all the essential amino acids – this can be achieved e.g. by combining a pulse and a grain e.g. peanut butter on toast or kidney beans and rice.

Are Supplements Useful?

Adequate recovery can be achieved with food however supplements can be useful in some circumstances. Typical protein supplements include whey protein and casein supplements. Whey is a quickly absorbed protein supplement whereas casein is slowly absorbed. Whey supplements can be useful as part of recovery if a meal or normal nutrition and recovery is likely to be delayed for > 60-90mins. Casein can also be useful and has been shown to be beneficial in promoting muscle protein synthesis overnight. Over-use of supplements should however be discouraged as they provide unnecessary calories and fat and over-reliance limits the intake of essential nutrients that are maximised during recovery with food first strategies. As a sports Dietitian I always advocate a food first approach however if an athletes chooses to use a supplement I always advise that they check that the supplement they are using is Informed By Sport by checking the Informed by Sport Website

Recovery Nutrition