How important is recovery nutrition after exercise?
The importance of recovery nutrition depends on the type and duration of exercise just completed, body composition goals and personal preferences. The goals of the recovery nutrition are to:
- Appropriately refuel and rehydrate the body
- Promote muscle repair and growth
- Boost adaptation from the training session
- Support immune function
Proactive recovery nutrition is especially important if you complete two or more training sessions in one day or two sessions in close succession (e.g. evening session followed by early morning session the next day). However, if you’re exercising once a day or a couple of times a week, recovery nutrition is still important but you may be able to meet your nutrition goals from your usual meals or snacks than adding in extra food.
What can go happen if I get my recovery nutrition wrong?
- Inadequate nutrition recovery, especially if training multiple times a day, can result in:
- Increased fatigue (during training and at work or school)
- Reduced performance at your next training session or event
- Suboptimal gains from the session just completed
- Increased muscle soreness
How soon after exercise should I be eating and drinking?
Rehydrating should begin soon after finishing your training session or event, however, the urgency for carbohydrate and protein after exercise depends on how long you have until your next exercise session. The body is most effective at replacing carbohydrate and promoting muscle repair and growth in the first ~60-90min after exercise, however this will continue to occur for another ~12-24hr. So, if you have a quick turn around between sessions it’s a good idea to maximise your recovery in the first 60-90 minutes after you finish exercising. Otherwise you could use your next regular meal after the session as your recovery nutrition. Some people may benefit from splitting their recovery into two parts with a small snack soon after exercise to kick start the recovery process followed by their next main meal to complete their recovery goals.
What should I be eating after exercise?
Everyone is different in what they like to eat, what their appetite is like and what sits comfortably in their stomach in the hours after exercise but in general foods should:
- Be rich in quality carbohydrate to replenish muscle fuel stores
- Contain some lean protein to promote muscle repair
- Include a source of fluid and electrolytes to rehydrate effectively
There’s no one “best” option for what to eat after exercise. Dairy foods such as flavoured milk, smoothies or fruit yoghurt can be a great option as they can provide carbohydrate, protein, fluid and electrolytes ticking all of your recovery goals in one handy option. Some other options that you may like to choose include:
- Lean chicken and salad roll
- Bowl of muesli with yoghurt and berries
- Fresh fruit salad topped with Greek yoghurt
- Spaghetti with lean beef bolognaise sauce
- Chicken burrito with salad and cheese
- Small tin of tuna on crackers plus a banana
What is the best fluid to drink after exercise?
The ideal fluid during exercise depends on your goals. If you are using fluid mainly to rehydrate from the session than water or electrolyte drinks are a good option. If you are also drinking to meet your source of carbohydrate goals then sports drinks can be helpful as they contain both carbohydrates and fluid to help hydrate and fuel your body at the same time. Dairy based fluids such as smoothies and flavoured milk are especially handy if you want to protein, carbohydrate, fluid and electrolyte in one go. Specialised protein powders and recovery shakes may be useful in some situations for some people however, for many people their recovery goals can be met using regular foods and drinks.
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