Recovery Nutrition: Eating To Ensure Optimal Recovery

Recovery nutrition has become a key performance component now that athletes have access to things like recovery centers, recovery drinks + bars, and recovery experts. However, it is not a “one size fits all” concept!

recovery nutrition

Misguided recovery eating practices can put a drain on the wallet, and can lead to unintentional consequences such as weight gain and/or failure to recover fully and optimally.

To avoid these consequences, it is crucial to understand why we refuel, and how best to do it!

Recovery Nutrition: Why We Need It

Food-based recovery in between sessions fulfills one of the following two goals:

Restoration of body losses and changes caused by a work-out

This is our aim when we’re in the thick of race season. We want to bounce back as quickly as possible, so that we’re always ready to push the envelope on our next run.

To do this, our main goal will be to restore performance levels as efficiently as possible so that we’re ready to go for our next session.

Adaptive responses to the stress and/or stimulus provided by a workout

During the “off-season,” our recovery nutrition falls more under this category. We want to see long-term improvements in strength, speed, and endurance, so we’re eating to ensure our body improves as it recovers.

Because of this, think more gradually, aiming to, over time, make the body better at what it does.

Remember, lighter workouts do not create a major demand on your body. So our goal is not to replenish everything we think our body has lost as fast as possible. Instead, focus on foods that will help your body adapt and improve.

Recovery Nutrition: Refueling in a nutshell 

recovery nutrition

Demanding exercise (either intense or long in duration) depletes muscle glycogen – 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 depleted muscle to refill its glycogen stores.

Recovery Nutrition: How soon do I need to eat?

If your recovery falls more into the adaptation category above, it’s alright to lose a few hours of active recovery. Maybe there are no healthy foods around right after your workout, or you’re managing a busy schedule that day.

Get some good recovery meals in when you can, and don’t stress!

However, if you are in the thick of marathon or ultra training and have another workout coming right around the corner (in 8 hours or less), it is imperative to start refueling as early as possible.

Recovery Nutrition: What To Eat

recovery nutrition

Believe it or not… carbs! Start consuming good, complex carbohydrates soon after your session finishes.

Aim for a recovery snack or meal providing carbs 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.

If you adhere to more of a high-fat/low-carb diet, you can start with a little less than the above formula and see how you feel, and then work up or down from there.

Similarly, if you do minimize carbs in your diet, time them so that the ones you do eat come right after your workout. Your body will thank you!

Recovery Nutrition: TRE’s favorite foods

Now that we have all that info, let’s get cooking! Below is a list of our favorite foods for muscle recovery. Incorporate some or all of these into your meals and snacks, and get ready for your next good workout!

  • Tart cherries
  • Turmeric powder
  • Ginger
  • Manuka honey
  • Cacao powder
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Eggs
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Greens or greens powder (spinach, arugula, kale, chlorella, & spirulina)
  • Sweet potato
  • Winter squash
  • Berries
  • Green tea
  • Cottage cheese