Many athletes are missing a crucial component of training that can improve performance: recovery nutrition. If you get done with your run, ride, climb, etc., and you aren’t fueling correctly afterwards, you may inadvertently be sabotaging your own performance progress. So why is recovery nutrition so important, and what types of foods should an athlete focus on?
Recovery Nutrition Basics
When you do a hard workout, you are breaking down your muscle fibers and causing tiny tears in the tissue. For an athlete to improve in performance, these muscles need to grow and become stronger. But for the rebuild of muscle tissue to happen, the body needs the right materials.
This is where recovery nutrition becomes important. Your body needs certain nutrients in order to make those adaptations that can lead to better performance. I’ll highlight three important nutrients to focus on for better recovery.
Carbohydrate is the preferred nutrient for energy production, and thus the importance of eating foods high in carbohydrate before, and during exercise. It is also important for recovery too. Not only does carbohydrate restock used up glycogen stores (essentially refilling the gas tank) so you’re ready to go for your next workout, but it also helps make muscle protein synthesis happen more efficiently. Some great sources of carbohydrate post-workout include simple sugars, fruit, grains, and carbohydrate-rich vegetables, like potatoes.
You’ve probably heard that protein is important for recovery, but why? Concentrated protein sources are important because they provide amino acids that are essentially the building blocks for muscle protein synthesis. Without this supply of amino acids, the body will struggle to build muscle. One amino acid of particular importance for muscle growth is leucine. Protein sources that are rich in leucine include nuts and seeds, soy products, pulses (beans, peas, lentils), and meat & dairy.
Besides a myriad of other health benefits, antioxidants are an important part of recovery nutrition because they can help the body heal from cellular damage and provide relief from inflammation and soreness. Fruit, veggies, and herbs are especially abundant in antioxidants, particularly berries, greens, and spices.
Shorten Your Recovery Time
There is no single food or nutrient that is going to magically make you a better athlete. If it were that easy, we’d all be olympians. But you can use recovery nutrition to better your game and here’s how: by shortening your recovery time.
Like I mentioned earlier, some soreness is normal, but if you’re still feeling sore and stiff from your last workout, or you’re chronically sore, the quality of your exercise sessions is going to suffer. Your workouts are going to be less effective, and your performance growth may be stunted. Whereas, if you’re recovering quickly in between sessions, you’ll be able to give a solid effort every training day.
About the Author: VIC JOHNSON
Hi, I'm Vic! I'm a nutrition coach for outdoor athletes, and love getting out on my own adventures too. I run trails and ultras, ride bicycles, and live for human powered epics in wild places. I nerd out on functional nutrition and love sharing what I've learned with others!