Welcome to our nutrition blog by Dr James Morton, Senior Sports Nutritionist for Science in Sport (SiS), where he will be giving advice on nutrition, dispelling fuelling myths and offering his tips every month. If you have a sports nutrition question or area you'd like to see covered in the blog, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although most endurance athletes are pretty knowledgeable on the nutritional requirements to prepare optimally for training and competition, the importance of recovery is often overlooked. However, without adequate recovery, the capacity to maintain high daily training intensity and volume can be impaired and if poor recovery is practiced long-term, it can lead to fatigue, illness, over-training, burnout and injury. Furthermore, it is in the recovery period when the muscle actually adapts to the stress of training (i.e. we increase the endurance like properties of the muscle) and in this regard, it is vital that our muscles are provided with the correct amount and type of nutrients to support adaptation, growth and repair. Endurance athletes should therefore place just as much importance on the recovery period as well as what we actually do in the hours and days before training and competition.
From a nutritional perspective, recovery takes on the 3 main goals of replenishing muscle glycogen stores (achieved by high carbohydrate intake), rehydration (by consuming electrolyte containing drinks) and promoting muscle repair and reducing soreness (facilitated by the intake of high quality protein). In fact, although most athletes readily appreciate the importance of carbohydrate and fluid, the role of post-exercise protein intake in supporting muscle recovery is by far, the most underappreciated aspect of recovery especially by endurance athletes. As such, it is high quality and rapidly digestible protein sources (such as whey and soy) that contain the vital building blocks (amino acids) to promote muscle repair, re-conditioning and reduce the extent of muscle soreness that we experience after hard competition and training.
Optimal recovery nutrition should also begin straight after exercise (and not delayed for several hours), as this is when the muscle is most receptive to taking in vital nutrients. For example, delaying carbohydrate intake until two hours after training as compared with feeding immediately, can reduce short-term muscle glycogen re-synthesis by as much as 50%. Although the importance of timing is well accepted, the precise amount of nutrients to consume depends on the intensity and duration of your exercise session as well as the scheduling of your next training session or competition. Nevertheless, as a general rule of thumb, approximately 1 g of carbohydrate per kg body mass (i.e. a 70 kg athlete would require 70 g), 20 g of protein and 1.5 L of fluid (for every 1 kg loss in body mass) is recommended to be consumed within 30 minutes of finishing exercise. In this window of opportunity, the enzymes and transporters in our muscles responsible for glycogen and protein synthesis are more active and so we should take advantage of this time-scale.
In recent years, there has been an increased popularity in the use of flavored milk as a recovery product. However, whilst milk is useful for rehydration purposes (as it is naturally high in electrolytes), the type of carbohydrate and protein contained within milk is not likely suitable to stimulate maximal recovery. For example, the slower digesting milk sugar lactose (as opposed to a more rapidly digesting maltodextrin based carbohydrate) and casein protein (milk is naturally higher in casein than whey) could compromise your rates of muscle glycogen resynthesis and protein synthesis compared with a maltodextrin and whey / soy based recovery product.
In summary, to ensure that you always get the best from your training, you should pay particular attention to your nutritional strategy as soon as you finish every training session. A blend of carbohydrate, protein and fluid consumed within 30 minutes of finishing exercise will certainly go a long way to help you achieve your training goals.
SiS REGO Rapid Recovery is a total recovery product and is used by athletes from amateur to Olympic level. It’s available here.