If you ask any coach what the most crucial aspect of training is they will tell you the recovery. Training breaks you down and proper rest and nutrition build you up and make you stronger.
Athletes very rarely get nutrition correct for recovery. Most of the time I either see meals which are overloaded in calories because they “earned” it or the macros are completely incorrect based on the kind of session that has just been done.
In my last blog Prepare to Perform we briefly touched on the topic of pre-workouts which I will be expanding on, however the element of recovery is far more important in the big scheme of things.
Recovery needs to be looked at from a few angles. Giving the body what it needs to recover is of course the main one, but what about the goals of the person. As an example, what if you are trying to drop body fat, and increase lean muscle mass? Then the type of meal you select post session will either be to your advantage or detriment. I can honestly tell you that most of you select meals which are to your detriment.
Why do I say this?
It’s simple not many people take the time to truly evaluate their sessions and understand what the body is going to go through on a physiological level which ultimately would get you planning your recovery meal prior to the session. When I go into a training session I already know what my body is going to go through in that session and then I have already planned the post exercise recovery meal. How many of you do this? I bet not many! Even if you do plan your meals its most likely based on convenience but unlikely to be based on exactly what the body needs.
Now you are wondering how the heck do I know what I want to eat after the session based on the session structure and what my body is going to be experiencing?
The truth is you can plan, it might not be 100% spot on but then all it will require is a minor modification to get it correct.
So now that you understand that recovery meals can be planned and the importance of them lets focus on how we go about strategizing our recovery nutrition.
The athletes I work with know very well that I look at sessions based on time and intensity. Why do I do this? Simple, your energy system is impacted differently based on these two main factors. We have a few fuel tanks in the human body, the two main ones being glycogen and fat. Intensity and time will determine which of these fuel tanks are mainly utilized and depleted. To understand this a little more do yourself a favor and check out my Get in the Zone explanation on You Tube.
To get recovery correct I break down sessions as follows:
If you watched my video you will know a low intensity session even over a longer period doesn’t really touch much glycogen at all. What this means is that you wouldn’t need to take in a high amount of carbohydrates post exercise. Why? You haven’t depleted your carb stores and so why would you need to load the system. If anything, overdoing the carbs post exercise when it’s not necessary will just mitigate your fat burn zone and most likely lead to weight gain. I have very often caught athletes post exercise just before they are going in for their “deserved recovery” meals. I carried out both glucose and ketone testing on them and then asked them what they were planning on having to eat. Number one they hadn’t planned, number two they were nowhere near the correct meal selection. Glucose was stable they were not burning much fat and they were dreaming of a large bowl of oats or a large peanut butter bomb from Kauai.
Not needed at all. The idea of proper recovery nutrition is to give the body exactly what is needed to recover from the session and to prepare for the next. No less no more.
What exactly I am looking for is quite simple it’s these 3 main aspects I analyze from a recovery point of view.
- Glycogen Replenishment / Blood Glucose Stabilization
- Muscle Recovery
Let’s break this down a little further and I will start with the muscle recovery.
Your muscles require protein to rebuild the question is how much and when. I am not going to get too in-depth here as this can be a thesis on its own. I will just say this. Protein needs to be consumed according to your body’s requirements. As a simple example an endurance athlete should be eating anywhere to 1.1-1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight, body builders even more. This value will depend on whether you are maintaining or needing to build more muscle mass and or drop some weight. Another factor that needs to be considered is if we are working on say 1.4 grams to a kg of body weight and you weigh 60kg it means you will require around +-85 grams of protein per a day. Many people think this can be consumed at once but you couldn’t be more mistaken. Protein intake must be split through the day and preferably around 20-25 gram maximum serving at a time with around a 3 hour gap between. Protein cannot be stored it needs to be processed and if you overload on it, it will be converted to blood glucose and eventually stored as fat, assuming glycogen stores are topped up. As far as a window period goes for an athlete no not really, your windows are through the day. Taking in protein post exercise can also help curb hunger cravings depending on protein consumed. Now you know why excessive meat eaters are anything but lean 😉.
As far as rehydration goes you need to replace loss of fluid through sweat. This does not mean sugary drinks it means fluid, so something like a hydration drink without calories or just plain water is fine. I will be writing a few separate blogs on hydration as its quite a big topic of discussion.
Now let’s look at my favorite topic, carbohydrates. Probably the most over consumed macro post workout because you earned it right? Wrong!
I will return back to what I mentioned earlier about time and intensity and ultimately this is one of the ways I determine the timing and volume of carbohydrate intake post exercise.
The rule of thumb is:
Low Intensity = Low Carb
Medium Intensity = Medium Carb
High Intensity = High Carb
Of course you need to be realistic here as intensity can be perception. I use heart rate effort as intensity and this doesn’t lie. Over and above that if you do a high intensity session for only an hour then you really haven’t “earned” your high carb meal because taking into account warm up, warm down and time of intensity you might not have really chewed up much glycogen and in that case a lower to medium carb meal might be a way better option. However a 2.5-3 hour high intensity session could certainly earn a higher carb meal but it also depends on what was consumed during the session.
Now you don’t want to get this meal wrong, so how do you mitigate that.
This is where one of my real secrets about recovery is about to be revealed. It’s taken quite a few years to master it properly, as each individual is very different from the next. But I have developed what I call the Double Nutrition Recovery System. The actual breakdown will be discussed in complete detail in the book I am writing. However, in short, I do two things. I look at the time and intensity of the session and then I combine that with the human element. In other words, how are you feeling directly after the workout, because sometimes the body speaks to you and those messages are so critical to understand. It might have been a short hard workout BUT what you did the day or days before could have brought your world down on this day due to what I call gradual tank depletion. I see this often by the way., mainly due to nutrition neglect or and over training.
Back to the Double Nutrition Recovery System. You start with the lower to medium carb meal first rather less than overdo it, as once you have over done it there is no turning back. So, have your first meal in a low to medium carb format and then wait 30 minutes. At this stage, your body will be speaking to you, if you are under cooked you will feel it and then all you do is take in a second recovery meal within the hour of the first one BUT I need to emphasize the macros MUST be correct. This system works extremely well and sets up a proper recovery which will leave you feeling stable, strong and recovered for the rest of the day. Understanding the type and timing of the meals are crucial to its success. Of course, also knowing which foods you require are very important, it’s not just carbs you need, there needs to be a balance of protein and fat with your recovery meals and again it’s such a big topic, but my book will be discussing recovery options as well as food tolerances and intolerance’s. Stay tuned.
Once your recovery meal is down packed and you have it spot on the most incredible thing is going to happen. You won’t have energy dips during the day, you won’t have unwanted hunger cravings, you will get stronger faster and best of all you will have the body you desired.
Remember the least amount of food to achieve the greatest possible result is what we are aiming for and most importantly, it needs to taste good and be enjoyed. Health is not a sacrifice its heavenly 😉.
Marks Mochaccino Recovery Shake (Medium to High Carb-Depending on Session)
Carbs (Medium GI) 48grams
Wanting this shake you can get it online here click on links below or at your local Dis-Chem
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Mark Wolff is an endurance, nutrition and physiology expert with over 20yrs experience.
An endurance multisport athlete with a triathlon, mountain biking and powerlifting background Mark works extensively with professional and amateur athletes in a variety of sports disciplines.
He firmly believes that an athlete can only reach their full potential when their health and nutrition is down packed. Marks focus on nutrition and physiology is not just on training and racing, but he places major emphasis on recovery, immune system health, emotional stability, stress management and performance. Mark is co-founder of 32Gi a sports nutrition company focused mainly on health and endurance nutrition. He is a certified sports nutrition expert as well as a marathon, track, triathlon and cycling coach. He spends most of his time guiding athletes with a very holistic approach to blending training and nutrition for performance and health.