If you're training hard for an endurance race, getting your recovery right is vital for staving off muscle soreness and improving your performance. We asked sports nutritionist, James Collins some of your most commonly asked questions...
When should I be eating after a run to maximise recovery?
The sooner the better - ideally within 30 minutes after running as your body needs essential nutrients to kick start the growth and repair process after a hard training session.
Is protein or carbohydrate more important for recovery?
Both are critical for full recovery after training. Carbohydrates are the body's main fuel source, and are stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. As the body can only store a certain amount of carbohydrate, once depleted through exercise these reserves need to be replaced before your next training session.
Protein is vital for the growth and repair of muscle tissue and as hard training depletes the body's stores it is important to refuel with high-protein snacks as soon as possible. Ensuring you replenish stores after each training session can significantly reduce muscle soreness the following day. If you can't face eating straight after a run, introduce fluids to your recovery strategy.
20g of protein is the magic number that you need to hit to optimise the recovery process after training. The following snacks will help you reach this target:
- 500ml milkshake
- Natural yogurt based fruit smoothie
- Sandwich with lean meats, eggs, or low-fat cheese
- Greek yogurt, granola and mixed berries
Some good recovery recipes with well balanced protein and carbohydrates include:
Open mackerel sandwich with fennel slaw
Melon & crunchy bran pots
Open chicken Caesar sandwich
Instant frozen berry yogurt
Open cottage cheese & pepper sandwich
Salmon & chive bagel topper
If you're watching your weight, how do you balance eating for recovery with continued weight loss? How much should you eat?
It is possible to balance proper recovery after exercise with weight loss - it's just about getting the balance right. Although many of the questions mention carbohydrates, it is important to adjust your daily intake depending on your training. Intake should be higher on 'key' training days and reduced on days with less training.
When managing your weight, try to get most of your carbohydrates from low-GI foods at mealtimes, rather than lots of higher GI snacks. These will also keep your feeling fuller for longer.
Where possible, eat meals as part of your recovery plan following your run, instead of adding in extra recovery snacks, which increase your total energy (calorie) intake for the day. This may take more planning to coincide runs with mealtimes.
How long after running a marathon would it be sensible to start training again?James says:
It is important to listen to your body on this one. Physiologically, your body can be ready to start training after a few days, especially as fitness levels are often greatly improved with endurance training. However, don't underestimate the fatigue you may experience over the following week. It is usually advisable for runners to have a break of a week to get a well earned physical, and psychological break from training, before lacing up the trainers again.
What are the key components for a post-marathon recovery plan?
When you think recovery, think of 'The Four R's':
- Rest - Get a good night's sleep - this is when most of your muscle repair will occur.
- Rehydrate - Replace fluid losses by drinking at regular intervals throughout the day.
- Repair - Eat 20g of protein soon after exercise to kick start muscle repair.
- Refuel - Eat carbohydrates to help restore energy - a minimum of 1g per kilogram bodyweight is a good general guide.
Are you training for an event this year? Share your tips and experiences below.
As a sport and exercise nutritionist, James Collins regularly provides comment and consultation within the media and maintains a role of governance within Health & Nutrition in the UK, where he sits on The Royal Society of Medicine's (RSM) 'Food and Health' Council. He was heavily involved in advising Team GB in the run up to the London 2012 Olympic games, and now towards Rio 2016.
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