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Recovery Eating

Posted by: on August, 1 2013

Found on Ironman.com and written by by Louise Burke, Head of Sports Nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport 

When to pass on the protein shake: A primer on when and how to refuel right.

Recovery has become an industry with athletes now having access to recovery centers, recovery experts, recovery drinks and recovery bars. A benefit of this interest is the spotlight given to sports nutrition, but the downside is that many athletes have come to consider recovery eating as a “one size fits all” activity. Misguided recovery eating practices not only can cause a drain on the wallet, but at times might actually lead to nutrition problems such as weight gain, or even a failure to recover optimally.

First, let’s look at why we eat after workouts in the first place. Food-based recovery between sessions has two separate goals:

1) Restoration of body losses and changes caused by one session to restore performance levels for the next.

2) Adaptive responses to the stress and/or stimulus provided by a session to gradually make the body better at what it does.

When we’re racing, our chief focus with eating is to bounce back as quickly as possible. But in training, our focus shifts to the adaptation goal. Light workouts, it’s important to remember, create no major demand.

Refueling in a nutshell

Demanding exercise (either intense or long in duration) depletes muscle glycogen stores—a critical muscle fuel that must be restored if the athlete wants to jump back in soon. Even when a carbohydrate supply is available, muscle glycogen restores at a rate of about five percent per hour; therefore, it can take around 24 hours for a depleted muscle to refill its glycogen stores. If there is plenty of time between workouts or games, it may not matter if you lose a couple of hours of active refueling. On the other hand, if you are in the thick of IRONMAN training and have another workout coming around the corner, it makes sense to start refueling as early as possible.

Start consuming carbohydrate soon after the session finishes. Aim for a recovery snack or meal providing carbohydrate equal to around one gram per kg body weight: e.g. 50 grams for a 50 kg (110 pound) female, 80 grams for an 80 kg (175 pound) male.

Continue with more snacks, drinks or meals to achieve a carbohydrate target of 1 g/kg per hour for the first four hours of recovery, then resume an eating pattern that meets overall fuel and energy goals. High-carbohydrate choices for refueling include grain products (such as wraps, bagels and cereals), sweetened dairy (such as yogurt), fruits, starchy vegetables and legumes.

When to refuel

-After races or fuel depleting training sessions when you have another session in eight hours or less.

-When total fuel needs are high, such as after a long bike ride or run, or a demanding competition schedule.

When to hold back

-When sessions are light or low in intensity and muscle glycogen isn’t likely to become depleted or limit performance.

-An uneducated approach to refueling may encourage the athlete to eat more kilojoules than needed (leading to weight gain) or a pattern of eating that is more risky for dental health.

-When the available choices are low in nutritional value, it makes more sense to wait a little until you can have a more nutritious meal.