Recovery is a fundamental element of training and racing, and is particularly important for triathletes who may be training multiple times per day, often six days a week.
The reason why is simple: without sufficient recovery, the capacity to maintain high intensity and high volume training sessions is reduced. If this occurs over a long-term period of time, it can lead to fatigue, illness, injury, over training and compromised long-term performance.
Training and racing at high intensities places a huge physiological stress on the body, which can result in the breakdown of muscle proteins and reduced post-exercise glycogen (carbohydrate) and electrolyte levels.
Optimal recovery = improved performance
Recovery allows the muscles time to repair and adapt to training, which is what leads to improvements in performance over a long-term period. For optimal recovery, the body must be supplied with the correct quantity and type of nutrition.
Endurance athletes often underestimate the importance of recovery, although it is actually a huge aspect of performance and should receive equal attention to training plans and pre/during exercise nutrition.
Recovery involves replenishing muscle glycogen stores used up (in the form of carbohydrate), rehydrating and replacing electrolytes lost through sweat (particularly sodium), repairing the muscles and promoting adaptation through the ingestion of protein.
Picking your post-exercise protein
Often the consumption of protein is underestimated, typically because of the huge emphasis placed on carbohydrate and fluid intake for endurance athletes.
However, taking on protein post-exercise effectively stimulates protein synthesis, which is when the body makes new proteins and repairs the muscle, promoting adaptation for enhanced future performance.
A high quality protein that is digested and absorbed quickly and has a high leucine content (to initiate protein synthesis) proves to be most effective for optimal recovery.
Whey and soy protein are both fast digesting so are ideal for this time, whereas casein protein found in milk is slow digesting and more suitable to consume in the evening before bed, and this allows the body to sustain a slow supply of protein to the muscles during sleep.
Jill’s top recovery tips
- Recovery should start immediately following exercise, as during this time the body is particularly receptive to carbohydrate, protein and fluid intake
- Consuming a combination of carbohydrate, protein and fluid within the 30 minutes post-exercise is ideal to initiate recovery
- Aim to consume 20 grams of high quality protein, 1 gramme per kg body mass of carbohydrate and 1500 ml of fluid for every 1kg body mass lost through sweat
- Fluid should be replaced gradually over the hours post-exercise and an electrolyte fluid will help to stimulate thirst and increase fluid absorption and retention
- Bringing food and fluid to an event helps to avoid consuming the high fat choices, which are typically available.
- Following initial food intake 30 minutes post-exercise, small and regular meals should be consumed in the hours afterwards to promote a full recovery.
Jill Leckey is Senior Sports Nutritionist at Science in Sport (www.scienceinsport.com). Her main interests in nutrition are hydration and the consumption of protein and carbohydrate before, during and after exercise and how this effects performance, adaptation and recovery.