You know that hitting your peak form requires planned recovery days and sessions in your training schedule. But eating in order to optimize recovery is just as important. It is with the meal after training that you can decide how your training response will be. The higher the level you train on, the more important this will be. 

With some nutrition tips along the way (of course they need to be practiced and not only read here) you can counter unwanted soreness and make sure that you provide the body with the fuel needed to restore performance to optimal levels. If you’re training for results, who would not want that?

Specified amounts in this article are aimed primarily at those who do endurance training on an advanced level (athletes). For someone following a general training schedule there is usually no need to follow the recommendations to the exact gram. Planning meals related to exercise is then sufficient.

Why is nutrition fundamental for optimal recovery? 

Lack of recovery, both in terms of resting from exercise, and poor meal timing and unbeneficial food choices post-training, can have a detrimental impact on your recovery. Planning your meals related to your sessions will help your muscles recover and rebuild, optimize energy levels for the next session, prevent injuries, prohibit infections and improve your general well being. There are multiple reasons why nutrition and post-training meals are fundamental. Some of the physiological reasons we need to replenish after training: We have replenish our glycogen stores (more or less) in our muscles and liver. We need to replenish for fluid and electrolytes lost through sweating. Help our muscles to recover and rebuild and help our immune system to prevent infections (which we might have an increased risk of directly after training). 

Post-Training Recovery

Directly after training (about 30-60 minutes) we have an increased ability to refuel and replenish our glycogen stores in our muscles and liver. Some people find it hard to eat straight after training, but snacking on something that contains simple carbohydrates (carbs) and protein, within the time span mentioned above, will be beneficial for your recovery. 

Fat and fibres slow down the gastric emptying and digestion. Directly after training, you want to refuel fast, and you should, therefore, avoid having large amounts of fats and fibres in post-training meals. For these meals, we should opt for simple carbs and protein.

Recommended amounts of macros post-training: 

Carbs: Around 1- 1.5 g per kg body weight (e.g. 70g for a person weighing 70 kg). Simple carbs will replenish our emptied glycogen storages faster compared to complex cabs. 

Carbs: Around 1- 1.5 g per kg body weight (e.g. 70g for a person weighing 70 kg). Simple carbs will replenish our emptied glycogen storages faster compared to complex cabs. 

Protein: Around 0.3 g per kg body weight. This is to help our muscles repair and enhance protein synthesis. 

Fluid: Restore the fluid balance by the fluid lost during the activity. Drink small volumes periodically.

Electrolytes: Sodium is the main electrolyte lost through sweating. If you sweat heavily it can be good to include some extra sodium in the meal after. 

Examples of suitable snacks for recovery post-training: 

Find rice cake and eggs recipe here

Find mango smoothie recipe here

Post-training meals

A few hours after training, it’s good to have a larger meal. This meal should include protein, carbs and healthy (unsaturated) fats. If you have another training session shortly (within the next 8 hours) this meal should contain simple carbs – since they will store energy faster than complex carbs.

If your recovery time will be longer than this, you can mix simple and complex carbs as you prefer. Complex carbs contain more fiber, vitamins and minerals, and should therefore, if possible, be included in all meals not related to training. 

Training early the next day? Have a late snack before bedtime containing carbs and protein to make sure you can keep recovering during the night and have enough energy stored for the upcoming session (and of course- also make sure to eat something pre-training the next day).

What to eat on rest days?

There is a reason we have planned rest-days and recovery sessions in our training schedule. As well as resting on these days, you will benefit from optimizing your nutrition intake. Aim for colorful, nutrient-dense meals that are spread evenly throughout the day. Try to keep a regular meal order on these days, as it will be beneficial.

Compared to the days when you are training, when simple carbs pre and post training are excellent in providing fast energy, the body doesn’t require equally quick energy supply when resting. Additionally, it is the best time to consume foods that are digested more slowly, such as fibers (found in complex carbs) and healthy fats. 

Fibers and unsaturated fats are vital for a lot of important body functions and processes and should therefore preferably be included in all meals not related to training.  

Post-Race Recovery 

Training and running longer distances, such as running a half or full marathon, puts a lot of stress on your body. This is true whether you are a first time runner or competing regularly on a high level. It is therefore important to start your recovery nutrition plan as soon as possible to help your muscles repair more quickly. 

A lot of people struggle with eating straight after a race, especially a race over a longer distance, but  it’s important to eat as soon as you can. In the hour after finishing a long race, you can be sure that your glycogen and fluid levels are going to be low, even if you’ve consumed sports drinks. Restoring your fluid and glycogen levels, and eating some protein, is the key to an optimized recovery, and reduces the risk of infection.

How to incorporate recovery meals into your everyday life

There is no one size fits all for recovery, and you need to plan your meals as well as you plan your training sessions. To find routines (and food) that fit into your everyday life and training schedule will be crucial.

Set some time aside for planning – and see how your training sessions can be combined with your recovery eating opportunities. If for example, you are not able to have a recovery snack directly after training like recommended above, see if you can plan your training session so it fits in with having a larger meal shortly after? 

Be a bit inventive- storing, preparing and/ or consuming can be tricky to plan –  but not impossible to find solutions for! Below I will give examples of easy post-training recovery snacks to bring, but if you need more individual suggestions- there are a bunch of amazing sports dietitians/ nutritionists out in the world for counseling. 

Examples of snacks that are easy to bring: 

Crackers, boiled eggs, energy bars, dried fruit (e.g. raisins, apricots, figs or dates), fruit (e.g. bananas), dairy products/ beverages containing energy,  or toast with a protein rich spread (e.g. hummus). 

Kajsa holds a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics from Umeå University, Sweden. Having worked as a Clinical Dietitian with a focus on dietary treatments for both individuals and groups, Kajsa now supports the Lifesum team in providing professional and evidence-based interventions to users. Kajsa is a self-confessed training nerd and admits her greatest passions are anything to do with food, science and health.

All posts by Kajsa Ernestam