Make the Most of Recovery Nutrition

Most athletes that I work with put a lot of time and thought into their pre-event meal. They want to ensure that they eat the perfect combination of foods to give them sustained energy and consume the meal at just the right time prior to the event. However, when asked what they eat after their workout or competition, many do not have an answer – they tend to grab whatever is available and convenient. Recovery nutrition is one area many athletes can quickly capitalize on to take their sports nutrition game plan to the next level.

Pro-Tip: Make what you eat after your workout or competition as important as what you eat prior to the activity.

The goal of recovery nutrition for athletes is to replace the fuel and fluid used during the activity – this includes carbohydrates to replace glycogen stores, protein to help build and repair muscles, electrolytes and water to replace sweat losses. Recovery nutrition is of particular importance when time between the training sessions or athletic competitions is limited, for example back-to-back competitions or two-a-day trainings.

Three Keys for Recovery Nutrition: Hydration, Carbohydrates, and Protein

I am often asked if recovery nutrition is best accomplished through a post-workout protein shake or through real food. As with many aspects of nutrition, this depends on the individual. Some athletes do not have an appetite post-exercise and find eating a meal to be a challenge. For these athletes, I often encourage consuming a post-workout beverage that contains ~25-30 grams of protein along with a good source of carbohydrates (~1 g carbohydrate/kg body weight).

It is important to note, however, that an athlete can easily meet recovery nutrition needs with real food. The meal below contains ~80 grams of carbohydrates and 28 grams of protein, which would easily meet the post-workout nutrition needs of a 175 pound athlete.

  • 1 cup rice
  • 4 oz grilled salmon
  • 0.5 cup steamed broccoli
  • 8 fl oz tart cherry juice

Convenience may be another determining factor between a post-workout shake and a meal. Many high school and college athletes head straight to class after practice, thus there is not time to go to the cafeteria to eat a meal. For these athletes, drinking a recovery shake or eating a well-planned snack can provide needed nutrients and hold them over until the next meal.

If you are looking for more ideas on how to meet your recovery nutrition needs, consider visiting with a Registered Dietitian for help developing an individualized meal plan. In addition, check-out the handout below for some quick and easy recovery nutrition snack ideas.

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