What’s For Recovery?

For normal individuals, there are three meals a day – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For dedicated athletes, there's another meal added to the schedule – recovery. The recovery meal is consumed within an hour immediately following intense physical activity, and athletes who desire to perform at their peak day after day know the significance of the recovery meal. So what's for recovery?

In a review published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, a group of Australian researchers set guidelines for carbohydrate and fat consumption in training and recovery. Carbohydrates are the body's primary source of energy, therefore when engaging in physical activity the body needs to extract from its stored carbohydrates (glycogen). Within an hour following the exercise, carbohydrates need to be consumed in order to replace the used glycogen and effectively prepare the body for the next workout. General recommendations (e.g. 70 grams of carbohydrates within the post-workout period) can be helpful, but the researchers suggest that each individual's carbohydrate consumption should be formulated to fit their unique situation while taking such factors as total energy needs and specific training goals into consideration.

Another guideline laid out in the review suggests that when there is less than eight hours between sessions, carbohydrate consumption should begin as soon as possible after the first workout to optimize recovery. On the other hand, when more time is provided for recovery, timing of carbohydrate consumption doesn't have to be as punctual and can begin anytime within the one-hour post-workout window.

The review authors also recognized that adding protein to the recovery meal may promote additional glycogen replacement and assist in the recovery process. However, despite recent interest in the replacement of intramuscular fat stores following exercise, there was no evidence to suggest that recovery meals high in fat and low in carbohydrates can improve training.

The Bigger Picture: When choosing which foods to include into your recovery meals, it is important to include fast-acting carbs and protein. Carbohydrates with a high-glycemic index replace glycogen the fastest and therefore should be favored for the recovery meal. In addition, rapidly digested proteins, such as whey isolates and hydrolysates, are also beneficial during the recovery phase because they quickly replace vital amino acids that were depleted during training. While it is possible to receive high-glycemic carbs and rapidly digested protein from whole foods, post-workout supplements containing precise ratios of these nutrients are available. Besides serving as more convenient and affordable options, post-workout supplements often provide extras that can't be obtained in sufficient amounts through whole foods (creatine, glutamine, taurine, BCAAs, etc.).
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