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While there’s a lot of individuality in athlete recovery needs, we know that proper hydration, nutrient intake, and rest are all key. Nutrition should be central to every athlete’s recovery process for optimal success.
What’s not always talked about is that recovery starts well before your training session or competition ends. Adequate fueling overall and during your activity both facilitate better recovery by not placing your body under unnecessary strain and stress.
Post Workout Protein
Post workout, there’s typically a focus on protein because protein is made up of amino acids. Amino acids act as building blocks for your muscles. Eating enough protein throughout the day and after exercise gives your muscles the amino acids necessary to repair and rebuild. We now know that adequate protein for an athlete throughout the day is most important for proper muscle recovery, and protein after a workout is beneficial to give the body what it needs to start to repair.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Cara Marrs’ recommendation for post workout recovery nutrition is to try to consume ~20-30g of protein depending on the person and the workout. If you’re eating a meal, then aim for .5-.7g carbohydrate per kg which equates to ~30-40g for a 130 pound or 59 kg athlete. This helps resynthesize glycogen and decrease muscle soreness.
If you can’t get to a full meal in time, shoot for a snack such as a bar with carbs and protein to get the process going. The Honey Stinger Nut + Seed Bar is a great option with 21g carbohydrates and 14g protein plus the added benefit of anti-inflammatory fats and antioxidants from the nuts and seeds. In your recovery meals, look for a balanced mix of macronutrients such as a protein bowl of chicken, fish or tofu, plentiful vegetables, nuts, seeds, avocado, and quinoa.
Short on Time
One of the biggest obstacles Cara sees athletes encounter is time. Workouts are often crammed in between busy life schedules, and recovery can easily fall by the wayside. The best way to combat this is to be prepared. If you need to consume something on the way home from the gym or trailhead, be ready with a constant stash of recovery items in your bag or car. Protein bars are super easy and convenient, and Cara also recommends foods like jerky and fresh or dried fruit. These options provide protein and carbs to replenish glycogen stores after your workout.
For recovery hydration, Cara starts by challenging athletes who tend not to drink enough to spend a day drinking ~100oz of water and report back the next day. They typically claim better sleep, less soreness and grogginess, decreased headaches, and better ease of waking. Firsthand experience is a powerful motivator. Drinking water throughout the day is important, and so are electrolytes.
Dehydration around exercise can manifest in muscle cramps, dizziness, irritability, fatigue, and extreme thirst. Some of the micronutrients lost through sweat are potassium, sodium, calcium, chloride, and magnesium. Making sure you’re replacing not only water but these nutrients as well helps with your recovery.
Start hydrating while you’re working out, especially if you’re an endurance athlete. When we talk about electrolytes, sodium is the Queen Bee. Sodium promotes better fluid intake, helps maintain volume of fluid, and lowers urine output. In an endurance sport when water intake is too high with no electrolytes, you’re at risk for increased urination and hyponatremia.
Remember to fuel and hydrate early and often for optimal recovery. Happy training!
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About Cara Marrs
Cara Marrs has been a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist since 2008 and has operated a thriving private practice for 15 years in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Cara earned her BS in Nutrition from Colorado State University before attending Central Michigan University for graduate school. In 2007, Cara completed her training and internship at the Mayo Clinic. In 2010, she became a certified LEAP therapist trained to work with food sensitivities, and she is currently finishing a Certificate of Training in Functional Medicine. Cara is a runner, skier, and yoga enthusiast who has been racing on the trails for over 25 years. She has been running ultras (50k to 100+ miles) for more than a decade.