Contrary to popular opinion, you do not need to be an elite athlete to benefit from recovering with the right fuel mix after training. In fact, if you are training several times each week as you prepare for the City to Surf, in addition to balancing work and family commitments, a good recovery program is exactly what you need to ensure you have enough energy to maintain your hectic schedule over the next few weeks.
The benefits of optimal recovery practices for elite athletes are well documented; improved recovery times, reduced muscle soreness, improved follow up sessions and lower levels of fatigue which can be demonstrated in the investment most elite sporting clubs give to optimal hydration, nutritional and supplementation strategies post training and competition. The physiology of recreational athletes is no different and hence optimal nutritional practices to promote muscle recovery are also likely to benefit any athlete who is running training for an hour or more on most days of the week.
Societal trends towards a lower carbohydrate style of eating, especially throughout the second half of the day, can represent a high risk situation for any runner who is clocking up the kilometres. While you may feel that you are burning few calories at work in front of the computer, or watching television later in the day, if your schedule also includes an hour or two of training on most days of the week, you will still be depleting your muscles of glycogen. Failing to then replenish these stores, particularly overnight after late afternoon or early evening after a late afternoon run or treadmill session, means that not only are you likely to be starting the next day with inadequate muscle stores of fuel but you are leaving the body in an energy depleted state hence potentially compromising both immune function and athletic performance.
Research has repeatedly shown that there is a key window of opportunity when it comes to muscle recovery. It is known that muscle glycogen restoration is significantly enhanced when a mixture of both carbohydrates and a small amount of protein is consumed within 30 minutes of finishing a session. From a practical perspective this means that waiting until you return home to a carb free dinner of meat and vegetables may not be the best thing to do by your body. Instead, taking a compact, nutritionally balanced snack that contains both carbohydrates and proteins such as dairy snacks or bread with a protein rich filling such as peanut butter, tuna or cheese and consuming it immediately after your session will not only ensure that your muscles have the best opportunity to recover prior to your next session but allow you to keep your dinner light if you choose.
Recreational athletes wanting to shift body fat but who have cutting carbohydrates at been night may also find that including a controlled portion of low GI carbs such as pasta or sweet potato may actually enhance fat burning – remember, active people do need some carbohydrate to promote optimal fat metabolism.
While high GI supplementary sports products including get shots, sports drinks and bars are regularly promoted to be the best choice when it comes to recovery, for recreational athletes, the high carbohydrate loads of these products, without the extra recovery benefit of protein mean that although you get a bit of sugar, you get a whole lot of extra kilojoules that you may not need. For example, a bottle of sports drink contains 30+ grams of carbohydrates per bottle without protein and >1000kJ as opposed to a liquid meal drink which contains a similar amount of carbohydrates with the added benefit of protein for far fewer kilojoules. So, choose such concentrated gels and sports drinks for long, endurance events such as the marathon and leave the more nutritious options as your daily recovery food options of choice.
The second important component of optimal recovery is ensuring you drink enough fluid once your session is finished to fully re-hydrate. While many of us are in the good habit of drinking plenty of fluid when training, the importance of hydrating for a number of hours after finishing training is often overlooked. Get into the habit of weighing yourself before and after long sessions to determine how much fluid you are losing. Remember, you will then need to drink 1 ½ times the amount of weight you have lost to fully replace your fluid losses and optimally re-hydrate to be ready for your next session.
Top recovery snacks
½ Peanut butter sandwich on grain bread
Low fat chocolate milk
Tub of yoghurt
Eggs on wholegrain toast
Protein/Carbohydrate snack bar
Skim milk coffee
Liquid meal drink such as Sustagen or Up & Go
Dried fruit and nut mix
Fruit salad and yoghurt
250mls skim milk
3 teaspoons Vanilla Whey Protein Powder
1 cup frozen berries