What is it and how is it important?
Serious athletes train a lot! This regular training leads to positive changes in the muscle that makes you stronger, faster and better at your sport. However, these changes will only occur if you start a good daily recovery plan, including enough total calories. How are proper fueling and good recovery connected?
- Allows for better delivery of nutrients like vitamins and protein to muscles
- Assures muscle repair happens quickly
- Signals the body’s hormones to switch from muscle breakdown to muscle building
Each of the above points leads to a body that can better recover from the training and competition athletes experience regularly.
So, an athlete that doesn’t fuel well won’t recover well and therefore will not adapt to training well or ultimately perform as well he could if the right recovery plan was in place. It takes the body up to 24-48 hours to fully recover. Since most top athletes do not take rest periods lasting 24-49 hours, this means that most athletes are always in recovery mode! Want to be the best you can be at your sport? Proper recovery not only helps prepare your body for the next training session but also for the next competition.
Hot Topic! Best recovery drink: Looking for recovery drink options? The best one is found in your local supermarket! Achieve the best recovery with chocolate milk. How does chocolate milk help your body recover? Chocolate milk after a workout provides the perfect amount of carbohydrate and protein to refuel and rebuild exhausted muscles. It also contains fluid and electrolytes to replenish what is lost in sweat. Because chocolate milk is a liquid, it is quickly digested and delivered to muscles for fast recovery. A recent study followed 100 high school students for five weeks. Some of the students received a sports drink after a workout and the rest were given chocolate milk. After five weeks, the athletes who drank chocolate milk were able to bench press 3.5 percent more weight and squat 15 percent more weight. However, those athletes who drank sports drink post workout decreased bench press weight by 3.2 percent. Their squat weight improved, but only by eight percent. For the best recovery after a workout, reach for chocolate milk!
The 3 R’s of recovery nutrition
As a busy athlete, you should eat your recovery snack within 30-60 minutes after finishing your training session. But, what does a recovery snack look like? What should recovery foods do for an athlete’s body? A well-created recovery plan helps the body complete these three steps:
STEP 1: Refuel
During exercise, carbohydrates in the muscle may be almost or entirely used up to power that workout (depending on the length and intensity of the workout). Therefore, the first key to good recovery is to replenish muscle carbohydrates in order to help the muscles get ready for the next training session. It can take up to 24-48 hours to entirely replace muscle and liver carbohydrate, which means most athletes will always be fighting to refill their carbohydrate tank! To determine how many carbohydrates you should be eating, take your weight and divide by two. So, a 180-pound athlete would need to eat about 90 grams of carbohydrate after a workout. Here are some great carbohydrate options to utilize:
STEP 2: Repair
Exercise creates tiny tears in the muscle. This is a good thing, as it is a step in helping your muscles respond positively to training. However, that muscle then needs to be repaired to make sure those positive training changes occur. Help repair and rebuild muscle with 20-30 grams of high-quality protein after exercise. Aim for thirty grams if you are a larger athlete. Use foods like the following:
STEP 3: Rehydrate
Training can cause large fluid losses through sweat. This lost fluid contains both water and electrolytes (mainly sodium). Help replace those losses by drinking about three cups of fluid for every pound you lose during training. To know how much fluid or water weight you lose during a training session, take your weight immediately before and after training, after wiping off any excess sweat on your skin. So, if your pre-training weight is 167 and your post-training weight is 165.5, that means you lost 1 ½ pounds of water during your training session. Therefore, you would drink about 4 ½ cups of fluid as part of your recovery nutrition plan.
If we put all three steps together, here are three great recovery nutrition options:
- 2-3 ½ cups chocolate milk
- Smoothie made from 1 cup Greek yogurt, 1 cup raspberries and 1 cup water
- Two 8” tortilla roll-ups: Fill each tortilla with 2 slices deli ham and 1 string cheese. Enjoy with a tall glass of water.
Hot Topic! Eating for strength and recovery: As you can see, recovery isn’t just about protein. Replacing muscle carbohydrate and fluid is equally important to the total recovery process. So, don’t be afraid to eat carbohydrates, even if your main goal is strength gains. Every type of athlete will benefit from carbohydrates as part of a recovery plan.
References: USOC and NDC/CPSDA Recovery Fact Sheets
Practical tips for recovery nutrition
When it comes to recovery, when you eat during the day is important. For those athletes who have two workouts in one day, or less than eight hours of time between sessions, eating within the first 30 minutes of finishing the first session is a must! Even if you don’t practice again until tomorrow, don’t wait too long before eating something. Aim to eat within the first one to two hours after training and then eat a full meal within three to four hours after training. It can take the body up to 24-48 hours to fully recover. So, for athletes who take few days off, this means they are almost always recovering!
Here are a few more things you can do to improve your recovery:
- If you have no or very low appetite after exercising, first try a liquid food option such as chocolate milk. Then add in solid food as soon as you can.
- Within two hours of finishing a workout, drink about three cups (24 fl. oz) of fluid for every pound lost during exercise to help with recovery and appetite.
- If you complete a very low intensity training session, such as a walk-through, yoga, stretching or easy walking, it’s okay to have only a small snack or wait until the next meal to get your recovery nutrition.
- Have a plan! Pack your workout bag, locker and car with solid recovery snacks! Shelf-stable chocolate milk is a great option, as it can be easily stored and accessed when needed!
In addition to after a workout, a second key recovery time is overnight while you are sleeping. Optimize recovery by eating one of these five power-packed protein snacks about 60 minutes before bed!
- 12-16 ounces low-fat chocolate milk
- 6 oz Greek yogurt topped with ¼ cup granola and 1 cup blueberries
- 1 string cheese, 1 cup apple slices, ¼ cup pretzels and 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- 2 scrambled eggs with ¼ cup cheddar cheese wrapped into a whole wheat tortilla
- 1 cup of whole grain and high fiber cereal with ½ cup of milk in the cereal and 1 cup of milk to drink
Hot Topic! How top athletes recover:
Top athletes know that in order to stay their best, they need to treat their bodies the best. This includes carefully and consistently eating a great meal and snack options around training and through the remainder of the day as their body recovers. Top athletes know that foods like low-fat chocolate milk provide the perfect amount of carbohydrate and protein to replace fuel lost in training as well as prepare muscles for the next time they need to train. So, if you want to be the best, fuel like a top athlete!