June 28, 2023
No matter how hard you are training, if you don’t provide your body with the right nutrients after training, you are missing out on your hard work. Especially if you train almost daily, it is key to recover quickly from each workout.
In many situations, optimal recovery after training or competition will only occur with a well-organized nutrition plan. Consequences of an inadequate recovery meal are obviously a prolonged recovery time, but also being more prone to infections, reduced training intensity the days after and a decrease in muscle mass and power output.
The principles of post-workout or recovery nutrition can be quite simple and include 3 rules, also known as the 3 ‘Rs’: Refuel, Rebuild and Replenish.
The restoration of glycogen is a fundamental goal of recovery between training sessions, particularly when you have training sessions planned on a day-to-day basis. Effective refuelling only starts after a substantial amount of carbohydrate consumption. Cyclists should aim to ingest 1.0-1.2 g of carbohydrates/kg bodyweight as soon as possible after exercise, and repeat this again 1 hour later. It is very important to ingest your carbohydrates quickly after finishing your training (within < 1 hour), because your muscles are at that point still very sensitive to carbohydrates. This means, that the re-synthesis of glycogen occurs more rapidly, which will favour your recovery time. Additionally, glucose combined with fructose co-ingestion improves carbohydrate replenishment compared to ingestion of glucose only. In practise: this could mean some slices of (whole grain) bread and some dried fruit, which is high in fructose.
The ingestion of protein within a recovery meal will enhance the restoration of damaged muscles. The intake of 0.2-0.4 g/kg bodyweight (around 15-25 g) of a high-quality (dairy) protein source will maximize protein synthesis. Additionally, protein ingestion leads to increased insulin concentrations, resulting in more glycogen storage in the muscle. However, combining protein and carbohydrates after exercise only improves glycogen when the intake of carbohydrates is suboptimal (around 0.8 g/kg bodyweight). If you ingest sufficient amounts of carbohydrates, protein does not seem to play beneficial roles for increasing muscle glycogen. Nonetheless, it does for muscle rebuilding! Protein examples that contain 20-25 g of protein are:
Even when you consumed solid amounts of fluids during your ride and you started in a well hydrated state, it is likely that some extent of dehydration still occurred. Drinking a fluid rate equal to your fluid losses at the end of your ride is not enough to sufficiently restore your fluid balance. Therefore, it is advised to replenish 150% of your losses after training. A rough indication of the amount of fluid deficit can be obtained by measuring bodyweight loss, in which 1 kg indicates a loss of 1 litre of fluid.
Let’s say that a 80 kg cyclist did a 3-hour training, and after the training he weighed 78.2, meaning that he lost 1.8 kg. How much should he now drink in the hours after his training? 1800 x 150% = 2700 millilitres to drink within approximately 4 hours after finishing the training. The below chart illustrates different urine colours and what that means for hydration status over the day, so not specifically recovery.
When it comes to hydration, it is good to remember that your sweat loss per hour will depend largely on several factors, including the temperature, your intensity of exercise, humidity, clothing and level of acclimatization and training status (if you are better trained, you are able to regulate your body temperature better). Lastly, also genetics play a big role: some people simply sweat more than others.
Small but frequent meals may help to achieve the necessary carbohydrate amounts, without the discomfort of overeating. However, this is based upon personal preferences, timetable and appetite/comfort. In long-term recovery (24 hours), it does not matter much how carbohydrate intake is spaced throughout the day, as long as enough carbohydrates are consumed. There may be small benefits in increasing frequency of carbohydrate ingestion after the first hours of exercise.
It is wise to consume different sources of protein so you get complementary proteins. Proteins consist of amino acids and not all protein sources contain all the essential amino acids you need. In general the non-vegetarian sources contain all essential amino acids. Vegetarians and vegans can ingest all essential amino acids they need by combining and varying with legumes, grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds throughout the day.
Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). Nutrition and athletic performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 48(3), 543-568.