I am often asked by coaches and athletes about nutrition for recovery. Recovery is both acute and long-term with the goal of returning to normal performance capacity (or even better sometimes) over the hours and days after a training session or competitive event.
Nutrition for Acute Recovery
Acute recovery becomes especially important when you only have hours between training sessions or events. The main nutrition concerns for acute recovery are:
- Glycogen Restoration
- Reducing Soreness
As you exercise, you become dehydrated by losing fluids through sweat. An easy way to determine your sweat or fluid losses is by using your body weight. Weighing yourself before and after a training session and noting the difference in weight is an easy and reliable way to determine your fluid losses. It is recommended to drink 150% of fluid lost in the 5 hours following exercise. In other words, you would need to drink 10 oz/h (for 5 hours) for every 2.2 lbs. lost. Adding sodium to your post-exercise hydration plan will help with fluid retention. Drinking fluids rapidly is associated with increased urine production. Sodium helps by keeping or retaining those fluids in the body and leading to faster hydration.
Your body uses glycogen stores for energy during exercise, especially at higher intensities. Low or depleted glycogen stores are associated with impaired performance and fatigue both physically and cognitively. From reductions is speed, strength, power, or the ability to sustain or maintain performance during sustained exercise to impairments in decision making, motor skills, and concentration.
Within the 4-6 hours after exercise, muscle glycogen stores can quickly elevated with adequate carbohydrate consumption. The overall rate of muscle glycogen restoration can take up to 24 hours or longer. For limited time between exercise sessions, carbohydrate intake becomes essential in supporting performance during the second session. The recommended carbohydrate intake post-exercise is 1.2-1.4g/kg/hour for the first 3-4 hours after exercise. More strategies on carbohydrate intake to restore glycogen stores can be found here.
Reducing Muscle Soreness
There are a few nutrition strategies that are suggested to reduce muscle soreness. High antioxidant intake from foods and beverages such as tart cherry juice have been shown to reduce muscle soreness. However, it has been suggested that large doses of antioxidants may interfere with training adaptations. High dose antioxidants, like tart cherry, are best when the priority is on quick recovery and not long-term adaptations.
This doesn’t mean avoiding fruits and vegetables on the long-term. Look to hit at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Muscle Rx also provides a nutrient-rich blend from fruits and vegetables.
Nutrition for Long-Term Adaptations
Protein is often included pretty high up on the list of recovery concerns after exercise. However, protein has little to do with acute recovery efforts (except for helping with glycogen synthesis as we have outlined in our blog on the post-recovery window).
The greatest impact protein has is on long-term adaptations for skeletal muscle. Ultimately, the most important factor is that you are consuming adequate amounts of protein daily. Subsequently, 1) how you distribute that protein throughout the day and 2) taking advantage of the post-exercise window will maximize your efforts in driving those adaptations (increase muscle mass, increasing strength, etc.). Our next blog will focus on these adaptations in the muscle associated with protein intake along with what determines protein “quality”.
Overall, protein intake post-exercise can assist in minimizing muscle protein breakdown and signal the repair and growth of muscle tissue along with enhancing glycogen restoration. Including protein in your post-exercise plan is recommended to maximize your efforts both acute and long-term.
Supplementing with creatine has shown to increase performance by 10-20% in high intensity and/or repetitive exercise. Not only does creatine provide performance benefits, but is has also shown to enhance recovery. In a previous blog, we covered creatine in depth and can be found here.