Nutrition requirements after sport and exercise will depend on the type of workout performed (e.g. resistance training or cardio training), the intensity of the workout and your overall goals. The aim of post-exercise nutrition is to promote optimum recovery between training and games and to maximise results. The three key principles of recovery nutrition are to:
- Refuel the muscle and liver glycogen (carbohydrate stores
- Rehydrate by replacing the fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat
- Repair muscle tissue and promote muscle adaptation
Refuelling after Sport and Exercise
After moderate and high intensity exercise (such as a football or netball match) your muscle glycogen (carbohydrate stores) will be depleted. If these glycogen stores are not replaced your performance during your next training will be compromised. The main dietary factor in post-exercise refueling is the amount of carbohydrate consumed. The amount you require will depend on the fuel cost of the workout you completed and the timing of your next session. If an intense workout is planned within the next 24 hours, consuming carbohydrate within the first hour of finishing the previous session is ideal for replacing glycogen stores. The meal or snack should provide 1-1.2 g of carbohydrate per kg body weight. See table below for snacks that include 50g carbohydrate as well as a protein source.
If your goal is weight loss, you can still aim to refuel glycogen stores before your next session; however it’s important that the post-exercise meal is considered as part of your overall energy (kilojoule or calorie) budget. You may wish to plan for one of your main meals or snacks to be consumed straight after your workout. This meal should provide a nutritious carbohydrate source along with other nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals.
Rehydrating after sport
After training or a game, replacing fluid plus electrolyte losses is important for optimal recovery. You continue to lose fluid through sweat and urine even after finishing your session, so you should aim to replace losses by 150%. In practice, this means if you are 1 kilogram lighter after your workout, you need to drink 1.5 litres over the next 2-6 hours (remember 1kg weight loss equals 1L fluid deficit).
If sweat rates were high, include a source of electrolytes to replace lost electrolytes and help the body re-hydrate more effectively. Sports drinks, milk and soup are all examples of electrolyte sources that can help with re-hydration after workouts. Remember that these also provide additional energy (kilojoules) and should be considered in your total energy budget.
Muscle repair after sport
High-intensity or strength-based training sessions result in the breakdown of muscle tissue. Taking in protein after a workout provides the amino acid building blocks needed to repair muscle fibres that get damaged during exercise and to promote the development of new muscle tissue. Although protein requirements vary between individuals, consuming 15 - 25 grams of protein within 30 minutes after exercise can help maximise the muscle rebuilding and repair process. Consuming protein after this ‘window of opportunity’ will still promote the muscle rebuilding and repair process, though the rate at which it occurs is less.
Adding a source of carbohydrate to this post-exercise meal or snack will further enhance recovery by reducing the degree of muscle protein breakdown. Carbohydrate intake helps stimulate the muscle to take up the amino acids. A protein-carbohydrate snack or meal after exercise is useful not only for muscle repair and adaptation to training, but to provide meet the goals of refueling muscle glycogen stores. The table below provides a list of carbohydrate rich snacks that also provide a protein source.
Nutritious carbohydrate and protein recovery snacks
- 1 bread roll with cheese/meat filling + large banana
- 300g fruit salad with 200g flavoured yoghurt
- 300g creamed rice
- 250-300ml milk shake or fruit smoothie
- 600ml low fat flavoured milk
- 1 large bowl (2 cups) breakfast cereal with milk
- 2 small cereal bars + 200g flavoured yoghurt
- 220g baked beans on 2 slices of toast
- 2 crumpets with thick spread peanut butter + 250ml glass of milk
- 300g (large) baked potato + cottage cheese filling + glass of milk