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Athletic Recovery

Updated: Mar 24

By: William Sanders RD, LD, ACSM-CPT


Have you ever felt sore? Maybe, like me, you too have been sore for an extended period of time and wished you felt better so you could get back to doing what you loved? Well then you too know what it feels like to not recover adequately. Adequate recovery means the body has replenished its nutrient stores following physical activity. Failing to recover can result in soreness, increased risk of injuries, and performance declines. An athletes nutrient needs will vary based upon many factors, but all athletes need additional energy and nutrients to supplement their activities and lifestyle in a healthy manner.

During a demanding physical activity, the muscles primarily utilized will be expending stored energy. If the activity continues, the body will use up all the stored energy, resulting in performance declines. Energy store losses can be reduced with nutritional strategies; however, this may not always be feasible (extreme conditions) or desirable (shorter duration activities). Athletes with endurance or multiple events planned for a day should consume extra energy primarily from protein and carbohydrate to meet their regimen demands (Beelen, et al. 2010). Consuming frequent, nutrient dense meals throughout the day may be a good option (Moore, 2015).

Aside from energy, electrolytes and fluid are essential to replace to accelerate recovery. Luckily, electrolytes are found in food and are easily replaced, but in hot and/or prolonged exercise conditions, our fluid and electrolyte needs may increase drastically. In these circumstances, sports drinks and other supplements containing electrolytes can be beneficial in preventing performance declines and accelerating recovery post-exercise (Shirreffs, Armstrong, & Cheuvront, 2007).

After a demanding activity is completed, lost energy must be replaced. Eating immediately (within 30 mins) following an activity dramatically enhances recovery (Moore, 2015). The type of meal consumed should be balanced in terms of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat), as consumption of these nutrients together aids in better recovery (inhibits muscle breakdown and increases muscular growth) than any one of the nutrients alone. The ideal post-exercise meal contains protein and carbohydrate in a 3:1 ratio (Beelen, et al. 2010). Fat expenditure is greater in athletes; therefore, fat and oils should not be excluded from an athletes diet. The best oils for athletes to consume are anti-inflammatory fatty acids found in plants and seafood, as these oils can assist in reducing inflammation (Potgieter, 2013). Although, eating post-exercise is crucial, don’t be afraid to add extra meals and snacks to your day if you feel hungry.

Additionally, athletes may have greater micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) requirements. Iron and calcium are two minerals of concern for many athletes. Iron plays a key role in cardiovascular performance and is essential for athletes. Calcium plays a big role in bone formation and maintenance. In order to maximize bone density and prevent fractures, choose foods rich in calcium, vitamin D, and protein frequently (McClung, 2005). Athletes should undergo testing from their health professional to check the levels of these nutrients.









References

Beelen, M., Burke, L. M., Gibala, M. J., & van Loon, L. J. C. (2010). Nutritional strategies to promote postexercise recovery. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 20(6), 515–532. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.20.6.515

Coelho-Junior, H. J., Marzetti, E., Picca, A., Cesari, M., Uchida, M. C., & Calvani, R. (2020). Protein intake and frailty: A matter of quantity, quality, and timing. Nutrients, 12(10), 2915. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12102915

McClung, M. R. (2005). The relationship between bone mineral density and fracture risk. Current Osteoporosis Reports, 3(2), 57–63. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11914-005-0005-y

Moore, D. R. (2015). Nutrition to support recovery from Endurance Exercise. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 14(4), 294–300. https://doi.org/10.1249/jsr.0000000000000180

Potgieter, S. (2013). Sport nutrition: A review of the latest guidelines for exercise and sport nutrition from the American College of Sport Nutrition, the International Olympic Committee and the International Society for Sports Nutrition. South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 26(1), 6–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/16070658.2013.11734434

SHIRREFFS, S. U. S. A. N. M., ARMSTRONG, L. A. W. R. E. N. C. E. E., & CHEUVRONT, S. A. M. U. E. L. N. (2007). Fluid and electrolyte needs for preparation and recovery from training and competition. Food, Nutrition and Sports Performance II, 92. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203448618_chapter_5

Trommelen, J., Betz, M. W., & van Loon, L. J. (2019). The muscle protein synthetic response to meal ingestion following resistance-type exercise. Sports Medicine, 49(2), 185–197. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-019-01053-5

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