Consistent exercise offers many health benefits. But for most athletes, it also carries the risk of going too far, damaging muscles and cells, and causing fatigue and chronic soreness.
In fact, most serious athletes have experienced one or all of the following after intense training: lingering and/or intense hunger, prolonged soreness, significant fatigue and heavy legs in subsequent training. At best, these are short lived and don't impair performance. At worst, all of them strike at once and last much too long. If you've been there or fear you soon will (note: toward the end of the season, the risk is greater), don't despair because there's help: proper recovery nutrition.
Of course, no matter what you do, if you're pushing your muscles, you will experience some soreness and fatigue. But, these ailments shouldn't routinely impair further training. One of the best habits any athlete can get into is to provide the body, muscles and cells with much-needed nutrients as soon as possible after training.
Three Basic Nutrients for RecoveryCarbohydrates
This macronutrient replenishes the glycogen in the liver and muscles. Any athlete whose main goal is performance, rather than fat loss, should aim for .25 to .50 grams of carbs per pound of body weight as soon as possible after training. With intense training or a workout session greater than 90 minutes, it's recommended that you have a recovery snack with the aforementioned amount of carbs in addition to regular meals/snacks. If your training is less intense, shorter or you have fat-loss goals in mind, use a normal meal/snack as the recovery as soon as possible after working out.
Protein helps repair muscle cells, build muscle cells, and provide the body with nutrients to burn rather than its own muscles. Ten to 30 grams of protein as soon as possible after training can improve recovery. What's more, a combination of slow-acting proteins (e.g., casein from dairy, soy, proteins in meats) and fast-acting proteins (e.g., whey from dairy, albumin from eggs) can improve immediate and long-lasting muscle retention.
It's important to crawl out of a dehydrated state as soon as possible after training. A good rule of thumb is to consume 16 to 32 ounces of fluid per hour during and immediately after training. During the warmer months, err on the high side and aim for 20 ounces per hour during training, and another 12 ounces per hour immediately afterward.
Now that you've mastered the basics, take a step further and add in the more advanced ingredients for optimal recovery.