Along with ice baths, massages and stretching, food is an essential component of recovering well and ensuring that your body stays fighting fit. As sports people we are always looking for ways we can get stronger and faster. We dedicate hours of our lives to training and carefully decide what we can eat beforehand to make us perform at our best, but what about how we replenish our bodies after?
Recovering well is so important because not only does it let your body wind down from the training you've just done; it gets you ready to train hard again. By consuming the right foods post workout, your body is able to:
- Increase muscular protein synthesis (growth),
- Decrease muscular breakdown,
- Replenish glycogen stores
During exercise, your body uses the glycogen stored in your muscles for fuel. These molecules of glycogen are broken down into glucose and then converted to ATP. This ATP acts as the energy the body needs to produce muscle contractions. In other words, carbohydrate is essential for us to be able to train and perform at our best. The rate at which a person's glycogen stored are depleted depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise. Therefore, on heavy training days, an athlete will need to consume greater amounts of carbohydrate than on lighter training days in order to restore muscle glycogen.
Because exercise can cause muscle tissue breakdown, it’s important to consume protein very soon after you have finished exercising. Having adequate protein within an hour of completing a workout will provide your body with the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild damaged proteins as well as building new muscle tissue.
It's recommended that you consume 0.3–0.5 grams of protein per kilo of body weight
Studies have shown that consuming 20–40 grams of protein within an hour after exercise is optimal to maximise the body's ability to recover. Sources of protein include:
- Lean meats (chicken, turkey)
- Oily fish
- Beans and pulses (chickpeas, beans, lentils)
During exercise, your body's primary fuel source is the carbohydrate stored as muscle glycogen. During exercise these stored are depleted and therefore need to be replenished. Because the rate of glycogen depletion depends on exercise duration and intensity, an endurance athlete (such as a runner or cyclist) will probably need to consume more post exercise carbohydrate than a body builder.
Consuming 1.1–1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilo of body weight within 30 minutes after training results in proper glycogen re-synthesis. This is really important because studies have shown that athletes who have inadequate glycogen cannot train as effectively and as hard as those with full glycogen stores. Good examples of post workout carbohydrates include:
- Wholemeal bread/ pasta/ rice
- Fruits and vegetables
- Tubers: potato and sweet potato
Glycogen synthesis is promoted by insulin secretion. Insulin secretion (and protein synthesis) are enhanced when carbohydrate and protein are consumed together in a 3:1 ratio. For example, if you weighed 60 kg you would need 90 g of carbohydrate and 30 g of protein post workout.
Other recovery nutrients
Pineapple can also be used for exercise recovery as it is rich in antioxidants such as flavonoids and phenolic acids. The demands of exercise cause increased free radical production in the body. These free radicals build up and cause oxidative stress that results in inflammation and a weakened immune system. This oxidative stress is reduced by antioxidants because they counteract the free radicals. Pineapple also contains bromelain, an enzyme which triggers the body to produce the substances it uses to fight inflammation. Because of this, there is substantial evidence that pineapple speeds recovery.
It's also really important to re-hydrate and replenish electrolytes lost through sweat. Watermelon does both these things as it is 95% water and contains magnesium and potassium, therefore making it a great post workout snack.
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