The science of recovery

RW puts seven recovery techniques under the microscope.

by Sam Murphy

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Getting the right balance of nutrients is key to recovery

It's clear that what you eat and drink influences how you perform - but there's plenty of evidence to demonstrate that the right nutrition is also crucial for optimal recovery.

"Recovery nutrition is often neglected," says Karen Reid, a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist ( "But the sooner you get the right nutrients in, the quicker you'll be able to repair damage, replenish fuel stores and flush out metabolic by-products."

You might sleep better, too, which will contribute to the recovery process. "Levels of cortisol and adrenaline are high after training, which can hamper sleep patterns," explains Reid. "Refuelling helps dissipate stress hormones and calms the body down."

Post-run menu

So what should be on the post-run menu? "You need carbohydrates to replenish and protein to repair," says Reid. Research shows that taking the two together works best. The ratio of protein to carbohydrate should be 1:3 - so around 20g of protein to 60g carbohydrate. Aim to take on board 1g of carbohydrate for every kg of your body weight.

If a long run takes away your appetite, you could opt for liquid replenishment. Recent research from Northumbria University, which followed athletes performing two exercise bouts, with a recovery drink between the two, found they performed better when they had a milk-based drink compared with water or a traditional carbohydrate-based sports drink.

"A milkshake has the right sort of balance of carbohydrate and protein, as well as being a good source of electrolytes such as magnesium, sodium and potassium," explains Reid.

You also need to consider antioxidants to combat the oxidative stress caused by hard exercise. "If you run in a polluted city environment, taking on antioxidants is even more important," says Reid. One type of antioxidant, anthocyanin, has been shown to be particularly beneficial and can be found in dark red fruit and veg such as blackberries, plums, cherries and beetroot.

But before you open the fridge to eat a single morsel, think about hydration. "If the cells are dehydrated, you can't transport nutrients to them - nor can you synthesise glycogen, as each gram needs three grams of water. Hydration has to come first." While there's no set volume of fluid you need, it's important to drink little and often after exercise until your urine runs clear and is being produced in normal volume.

Your recovery strategy

After a long or hard run, refuel with a milkshake and a piece of fruit. If you've sweated a lot, a salty snack such as pretzels can help replace lost electrolytes and stimulate thirst.

And what if you're on the move and can't lay your hands on a healthy meal or snack? "Recovery bars and drinks do the job," says Reid. "Look for something with around 20g of protein and 50-60g of carbs. But bear in mind that you don't get all the other goodies, like antioxidants and omega-3s."

Discover sports nutritionist Karen Reid's ideal post-run meal.

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Discuss this article

My name is Paul Allsop

Two years ago I had an accident and was in intensive care for three days.

On my discharge I was very breathless whan I ran - I was used to running marathons every two or three weeks.

The problem was eventually diagnosed to be Pulmonary Embolisms - blood clots in both lungs.

 I am now on Warfarin for life and am still breathless when I run and have to stop and walk after about 10 mins gentle jogging.

 I am told by the Respiritory Specialist at the Wittington hospital in London that this breathlessness may gradually get better.

I wonder if any other runners have experience of this problem.

I continue to run and walk and also cycle.

My email address is: /forum/smilies/]

Posted: 15/02/2011 at 10:38

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