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Recovery Food and Post-Exercise Nutrition


Give Your Body Carbohydrates To Recover

It's key to ensure your workout recovery is helping make the most out of all the hard work you are doing.

Plagued with sore and stiff muscles following our workouts, motivation to happily continue exercising can be somewhat strained. No matter what your goal, whether it’s building muscle, becoming leaner, or losing weight, give your body the tools to recover and adapt to the physiological stress of exercise. With correct planning of recovery strategies and a sustainable exercise regime, your body will adapt and become fitter, stronger and faster, allowing you to get back to your sport or exercise in less time.

What does recovery involve?

So what exactly do we mean when we talk about recovery and recovery food? We mean carbs.

Carbohydrates contribute to the recovery of normal muscle function (contraction) after highly intensive and/or long-lasting physical exercise such as jogging or cycling leading to muscle fatigue and the depletion of glycogen stores in skeletal muscle.

However the stored form of carbohydrate, known as glycogen, which is found in our liver and muscles, becomes depleted during exercise. If glycogen stores are not sufficiently replenished post exercise, there will not be enough available energy to train hard during subsequent workouts, and workouts can feel more difficult.

Our daily carbohydrate requirements are determined by body weight, the above beneficial effect is obtained with the consumption of carbohydrates, from all sources, at a total intake of 4 g per kg body weight, at doses, within the first 4 hours and no later than 6 hours, following highly intensive and/or long-lasting physical exercise leading to muscle fatigue and the depletion of glycogen stores in skeletal muscle.

For example - A 60 kg individual performing light intensity exercise, such as 30 minutes of jogging 3 times per week, would need between 3 – 5 g/kg

Exercise Intensity Carbohydrate Intake Per Day (g/kg BW/day)
LIGHT – Low intensity or skill-based activities 3 - 5
MODERATE - (1 hour/day) 5 – 7
HIGH – Endurance programme (1 - 3 hours/day) 6 - 10

Sustain and Rebuild

Exercise can cause a breakdown of muscle protein, which can lead to the sore and aching feeling in the muscles, otherwise known as DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness). DOMS can last anywhere between 24 – 72 hours post exercise, making getting back to the gym that bit less enjoyable. Get a head start by having an early intake of high quality, complete proteins as soon as possible after your workout, when the body is particularly receptive. Complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids that the body doesn’t make on its own, and can be found in foods such as meat, fish, soy and dairy. During this window of opportunity, aim to eat around 20 g of protein to encourage the rebuilding and maintenance of muscle. For individuals with a larger muscle mass who are performing strength-based exercise i.e lifting weights, a higher intake of 30 g protein may be beneficial. Additionally, eating enough protein throughout the day is important to meet your individual protein requirements. Follow the table below for guidance on how much protein per day is right for you.

Exercise Intensity Protein Intake Per Day (g/kg BW/day)
LIGHT – (3 days/week) 0.8 – 1.0
MODERATE - (1 - 3 hours/day) 1.2 – 1.4

Try the nutritious carbohydrate-protein snack options below, most containing 20 g of protein with a moderate portion of carbohydrate.

Food Quantity
Baked potato + tuna 1 large potato + 70 g tuna
Breakfast cereal + semi-skimmed milk 50 g cereal + 250 ml milk
Fruit smoothie 300 ml
Beans on wholemeal toast 200 g + 2 slices
Rice pudding 300 g
Bread roll + egg filling + 1 banana 1 bread roll + 100 g filling
Promax Bar 1 x 60 g bar
Maximuscle Protein Milk 1 x 330 ml bottle

Top tips:

Liquid nutrition - As some people can’t stomach whole foods after a workout, try a liquid form of nutrition which provides carbohydrate and protein, such as an oat and mixed fruit smoothie, or a Maximuscle protein milk. Compared to whole foods, liquefied nutrition can be beneficial due to its rapid digestion rates, helping to provide the protein needed to kick start the muscle building process sooner.

Organisation – Being organised is the key to optimising recovery. Include a non-perishable form of carbohydrate and protein in your kit bag.

To reap the rewards of gruelling workouts, eat adequate carbohydrate (3 – 10 g/kg BW/day) and high quality complete proteins (1 – 2 g/kg BW/day) per day, amount depending on your exercise type and intensity. Have a source of protein and carbohydrate in your gym bag, ready to eat as soon as possible after your workout. Ensure to stay hydrated throughout the day and pay special attention to the replacement of fluid and salts that are lost during exercise via sweat. See our Hydration in Sport and Fitness article for more info.

If you get the three R’s of recovery right; refuel, rebuild and rehydrate, you’ll be well on your way to ensuring you’re at your best for your next exercise session. With adequate rest to compliment this, you might even find you are really looking forward to hitting your next workout hard.