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Recovery After Intense Exercise

Content by: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD

Athletes need to manage intense exercise with a strong nutrition program. Learn the basics of a recovery diet...Read more!

Recovery After Intense Exercise





The recovery diet is very important for athletes who:
• Exercise twice a day.
• Do repeated days of training.
• Participate in tournaments.

To recover quickly from the first session of intense exercise and prepare for the next one, you want to refuel your muscles within 30 to 60 minutes after exercise or as soon as tolerated.

10 Tips for a strong Recovery!
1. Focus your recovery meal on breads, cereals, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Your muscles need carbohydrate-rich foods to make glycogen, the fuel that supports hard exercise. Muscles don’t make glycogen from protein and/or fat.
NOTE: Carbs refuel depleted muscle glycogen; protein repairs damaged muscle!

2. Choose carbohydrate-based meals with protein as the accompaniment.
(That means, for example, 2 potatoes with 1 chicken breast, not 2 chicken breasts with one potato.)
Some carb + protein suggestions include:
Chocolate milk
Peanut butter & banana sandwich
Pasta + tomato sauce + meatballs
Cereal + milk
Bagel + protein shake
Fruit smoothie (fruit blended with Greek yogurt)

3. Consume carbs as soon as tolerable after a hard workout, then another dose in 2 hours, 4 hours and 6 hours. Muscles need a steady supply of carbs to refuel.

4. Drink enough fluid to quench your thirst—and then drink more. You may not feel thirsty, but keep sipping on fluids until your urine is a light color (not dark and smelly). You are drinking enough if you need to urinate every two to four hours.

5. If you crave salt, sprinkle some on your food. Eat salty foods such as soup, pretzels, pickles or salted crackers. If you will be exercising hard in hot conditions for more than 3 or 4 hours, consume salty foods before exercise to get the salt into your system.

6. Enjoy fruits, vegetables and juices that contain potassium, a mineral (electrolyte) that you lose in sweat. Some potassium-rich foods include oranges, orange juice, bananas, raisins, dried apricots, potatoes and tomato sauce.

7. Chocolate milk and/or 100%-fruit juice are healthier post-exercise choices than a sports drink. Nutrient-rich milk and natural juices (orange, grape, tart cherry) are rich in the electrolytes and carbs that enhance recovery. In comparison, sports drinks are low in carbohydrate and have little nutritional value. Sports drinks are meant to be taken during exercise, not afterwards.

8. Every day, eat carbohydrate-based meals with a side of protein. This will help you replace depleted muscle glycogen stores, heal damaged muscles and prevent “dead legs.”

9. Rest days are a critical part of a training program. Your muscles need 24 to 48 hours with no exercise to refuel. Hence, you aren't "being lazy" if you take a day off. You are investing in your ability to refuel, heal and perform better during your next workout.

10. Train and rest! The “good” things happen when you rest, rehydrate and refuel!

Quick Tips!

Plan ahead, so you have the best recovery foods and fluids readily available. Poor choices in recovery foods include:
• Too many greasy, fatty foods. Donuts, hot dogs, burgers, nachos, French fries and chips have limited recovery value.
• Too much protein. Protein helps repair and build muscles, but it does not refuel your muscles.

Next Steps!

Focus on carbohydrates for recovery!
1. Plan ahead for your recovery meal.
2. Choose more carbs than protein.
3. Rehydrate.
4. Rest between intense workouts or competitions.

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