The Importance of Recovery

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 and/or preparing for an upcoming event, 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 minus injury and fatigue.

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. These 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 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 cyclist 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, a schedule which also includes an hour or two of training on most days of the week will still be depleting your muscles of glycogen. Failing to replenish these stores – particularly overnight after late afternoon or early evening after a late afternoon road or track 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, 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 been cutting carbohydrates at 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.

High GI supplementary sports products including gel shots, sports drinks and bars are regularly promoted to be the best choice when it comes to recovery. But 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 also 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 longer weekend rides) 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.

Super Recovery Foods

Chocolate Milk

It is now well documented that flavoured milk can be just as effective as supplementation to recover tired muscles. Either make your own at home with a little cocoa power and milk, or grab a container of low fat flavoured milk on your way home from training.

Turmeric

This powerful Indian spice contains a natural anti-inflammatory compound, curcumin, which is often found in curry blends. It is said to have the same effect as over-the-counter pain relievers, so get ready to add to your curry and soups this winter.

Watermelon

A recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has found that the amino acid L-citrulline facilitates lactic acid removal, reducing muscle soreness and aiding recovery.

Beetroot juice

Packed with nitrates which help to open blood vessels, aiding oxygen delivery to the muscles along with a good dose of antioxidants.

Oily Fish

Packed with nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatory fats, the omega 3s, sardines, salmon, fresh tuna or snapper should be included in the diet at least a couple of times each week.

Grilled Salmon and Vegetable Mash Salmon (Serve 4)

4 x 200g salmon fillets
2 teaspoons wholegrain English mustard
¼ cup extra light sour cream
Vegetable Mash
1 zucchini, grated
1 large carrot, grated
1 onion, finely sliced
1 small clove garlic
1 small butternut pumpkin, precooked in microwave and diced
Teaspoon olive oil

Method

Preheat grill to hot.

Grill salmon until golden and cooked to your liking.

Vegetable mash. Sauté garlic and onion over olive oil. Add grated zucchini, carrot and cook through.

Remove and mash all vegetables together. Add some light butter if desired.

Mix sour cream and mustard together.

Serve salmon with a drizzle of mustard dressing on top of vegetable mash and salad. Serve sprinkled with peanuts.

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