Eating for Recovery

Eating for Recovery

Recovery is paramount. There is much and more made of grueling competition scheduling in sports. In few sports is this as regularly highlighted as it is in football, arguably most often in Scotland where weather conditions can lead to unforeseen rescheduling of matches, especially in the lower levels of the game. Often this results in a number of matches needing to be played over a relatively short period of time, challenging the athletes ability to fully recover and sustain the highest levels of performance.

Regardless of the sport you play, or even if you just have a gruelling training schedule for personal endeavours, keeping an optimal performance level throughout the week/month/cycle or season is limited by how well you can recover. The benefits of rest are well known, there are other measures that people or teams can employ such as ice baths, ECP, compression clothing post exercise. The most researched, however, is nutrition. How we replenish the nutrients and hydration needed to repair tissues and keep our immune systems working well is, for obvious reasons, highly important to any athlete or participant in sport.

Here, we will look at some of the general guidelines for optimising recovery nutrition post workout/training session/match;

Goals of post exercise nutrition include
* Replenishing muscle and liver glycogen
* Protein to assist muscle repair
* Restoring fluid and electrolytes lost through sweat

* Supporting the immune system

Glycogen replenishment: It has been found that the body is most receptive to replenishment (especially glycogen) within 30 minutes of intense exercise. Failure to replenish glycogen stores can negatively affect future performance. A ratio of either 1.2g carbohydrates or a mix of 0.2-0.4g of protein and 0.8g of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight is recommended. The best option will depend on the individuals tolerance of food or drink so soon after that level of exertion.

Building/Repairing muscle: a recommendation of 20-30g of high quality protein (covering a good range of essential amino acids) within an hour of endurance or resistance based exercise. If you are mixing protein and carbs for your glycogen replacement earlier using branched chain amino acids (BCCAs) can be beneficial and allow you to get this additional protein from a single source.

Rehydrating the body: like depleting glycogen stores, reduced hydration levels can also impact on future performance if not replenished. The aim here is to consume 125-150% of the estimated fluid lost and to do so over a 4-6 hour period post exercise. Adding electrolytes will help the body to absorb and retain the fluid you drink. A ratio of 50-80mmol of sodium is recommended. To roughly estimate the amount of fluid lost more accurately weighing before and after the session will give a good idea of fluid lost. 1kg = 1 litre of water approximately.

Supporting the immune system: Intensive training can suppress the immune system. This occurs during training and can continue to effect it’s efficiency for hours afterwards. Vitamins C and E, zinc, glutamine and probiotics have been widely touted to help. Maintaining glycogen pre and post workout have been shown to help limit any immune suppressing effects of intense exercise.

Where possible, it is good to get our nutrients from natural foods, using supplements only where necessary. Varying our sources of proteins, carbohydrates and fats is also beneficial.
Important note: These nutritional tips are based on the needs of a regularly exercising adult. The nutritional needs of kids in training (unfortunately) is not as well researched currently. Though there are studies on going. I will include some guideline nutritional recommendations for active youths in the members area.


1. M. Beelen, Burke, L.M., Gibala, M.J., and van Loon, L.J.C. Nutritional strategies to promote postexercise recovery. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2010; 20:515-532.

2. Hayes A and Cribb P. J. Effect of whey protein isolate on strength, body composition and muscle hypertrophy during resistance training. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care 2008, 11:40-44

3. Nieman DC. Influence of carbohydrate on the immune response to intensive, prolonged exercise. Exerc Immunol Rev. 1998;4:64-76.

4. “Recovery Nutrition.” Sports Dieticians Australia. June 2012