The Sport Information Resource Centre
The Sport Information Resource Centre

Post-exercise nutrition should be an important goal that is placed at the top of any serious athletes training priorities. After an intense training session, your body will be sorely lacking the energy and nutrients it needs to recover. While we workout we burn through our body’s energy stores and cause micro tears in our muscle tissue. While this process is essential for building strength, endurance and fitness, your body needs time in between bouts of exercise to recover and repair itself and for that it needs food.

Recovery encompasses a complex range of processes that include:

  • refueling the muscle and liver glycogen stores
  • replacing the fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat
  • manufacturing muscle protein, red blood cells and other cellular components as part of the repair and adaptation process
  • allowing the immune system to handle the damage and challenges caused by the exercise bout

It is important to consume carbohydrates, such as juice or fruit within 15 minutes post-exercise to help replenish glycogen stores. Optimizing glycogen stores is important because glycogen is the primary fuel your muscles use for energy production. Glycogen recovery is most important for athletes who are training multiple times per day, have back-to-back events/competitions, and for those athletes who may not be getting the carbohydrates they need throughout the day.

What should I be eating?

Immediately after training, muscles are the most receptive to absorbing nutrients such as carbohydrates (restores muscle glycogen) and protein (repairs damaged muscle fibres), both of which are essential for rapid recovery from intense exercise.

  • Quick releasing (glycaemic index) carbs such as sugars are favoured right after training because the sugars can rapidly enter the bloodstream which maximizes carbohydrate uptake.
  • Protein ingestion before sleep improves post-exercise overnight recovery. High protein foods include – bran cereal, lite milk, Swiss cheese, lean steak, baked potato, and broccoli. Beans, lentils, cottage cheese, spinach and yogurt are also good sources.
  • If the period between exercise sessions is less than eight hours, an athlete should begin carbohydrate intake as soon as practical after the first workout session. Eating carbohydrates can be in the form of small snacks to minimize gastrointestinal discomfort.

When plotting your recovery plan, it’s important to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every athlete and sport is going to require individual tweaks to find a nutrition plan that works best for them. If you want to ensure that you get the most of your recovery nutrition, first try consulting a registered dietitian or sport trainer.

References from the SIRC Collection:

1. Fitzgerald M. More gain less pain: using nutrition to reduce post-exercise muscle soreness. ASCA Newsletter. 2003;(6):15.

2. Kirwan J. Eating for health and athletic performance: the glycemic index. ACSM Fit Society Page. Summer 2002;:7;11.

3. Millard-Stafford M, Warren G, Thomas L, Doyle J, Snow T, Hitchcock K. Recovery from Run Training: Efficacy of a Carbohydrate-Protein Beverage?. International Journal Of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism. December 2005;15(6):610.

4. Owoc K. RECOVERY NUTRITION: TOP 10 POST-EXERCISE FOODS. Technique. February 2013;33(2):32-34.

5. Poole C, Wilborn C, Taylor L, Kerksick C. The role of post-exercise nutrient administration on muscle protein synthesis and glycogen synthesis. Journal Of Sports Science & Medicine. September 2010;9(3):354-363.

6. Wein D, Mitrus G. Post-Exercise Nutrition: Recommendations for Resistance and Endurance Training. Performance Training Journal. May 2008;7(3):17-18.