The role of nutrition during the exercise recovery phase
Any athlete or individual who has participated in a vigorous training or competition session is familiar with muscular fatigue (1). When the muscle is fatigued, it is a stressful time for the body, but it can serve as a stimulus to different protein tissues in the body (i.e your muscle!) to grow and become stronger if given proper recovery. This can therefore allow for a better capability to create a performance adaptation in the body for future bouts of exercise (2).
This process and the adaptations that occur require proper nutrition to optimize the recovery after the exercise. Especially for athletes that need to deal with more than one training session a day, what you eat post-exercise will, without a doubt, affect your recovery (3). The main nutrients involved in the recovery process are carbohydrates and protein. These nutrients, when taken in the right amounts and at the right time, will restore glycogen levels (stored energy), increase muscle protein synthesis (resulting in MORE muscle), as well as decreasing the recovery time length (2, 4).
The recommendation of carbohydrate intake will vary according to the exercise demand. It can go from 3 to 5g/kg/day if a light exercise routine, increasing up to 12g/kg/day of carbohydrate if you find yourself in a very high-intensity exercise routine.
For proteins, the needs will be around 1.2 to 2g/kg/day, being increased during short periods of intensified exercise (4, 5). Choosing carbohydrate and protein sources that are also rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals will help to boost your recovery even faster.
Another point to be highlighted is the athlete hydration after the exercise. Only a dehydration of <2% of body weight can compromise cognitive function, muscle contraction and decrease the performance. With that being said, the consumption of water and sports drinks are important to rehydrate and replace the electrolytes lost during the exercise (4, 6).
“A well-hydrated individual always functions at a higher physiologic and performance level than a dehydrated one” (6).
This can be controlled using the urine as a parameter. Large amounts of urine, a light color and without strong smell is a signal of good rehydration (6).
Having a proper consumption of carbohydrate and protein, associated with an adequate water/sports drinks intake, will result in lower muscle soreness and recovery time, allowing you to be ready for your next training session. Do not neglect your nutrition, always eat wisely and make the best choice for your results.