Recovery Nutritionrunning recovery

Athletes frequently focus only on the event – the training, the nutrition strategy, the mental preparation goes as far as the finish line…and then they cannot get up the next morning!


Running a marathon not only challenges the runner’s carbohydrate stores, but also causes some damage to muscle fibres, which will delay recovery. Recovery is essential to restore muscle glycogen, initiate repair and reduce the immune suppression associated with intense physical activity.  During the recovery phase, there is a gradual change from muscle breakdown to muscle rebuilding, which continues for at least 24 hours.

It is essential to initiate your recovery programme within an hour of passing the finishing post. This can be done with either whole food, or sports supplements, depending on food availability, tolerance and practical logistics.

Carbohydrate is the first fuel consideration, as glycogen synthesis is greatest within the first hour post exercise (preferably within 30minutes), then 2-hourly for the next 4-6 hours.  Approximately 1g carbohydrate per kg body weight should be consumed.  Carbohydrate replenishes muscle glycogen, reduces muscle protein breakdown, and reduces stress hormone response to exercise, and supplies glucose to fuel the activity of the white blood cells.

Research indicates that intake of amino acids from good quality protein within the first hour post exercise further promotes muscle protein rebuilding.  Consuming protein after the “window of opportunity” will continue to rebuild muscle, but at a slower rate. Approximately 15-20g (or 0.5g/kg) high quality protein is recommended within the first hour, then 2hourly for eh next 4-6 hours.

Fluid replacement is also critical, and athletes should aim to consume 125-150% of their estimated fluid losses in the first 4-6 hours after exercise.  Replacing fluid without sodium will merely increase urine production.  Also, sodium (salt) will preserve thirst, enhancing voluntary intake.  Sodium should be obtained both from sports drinks and food sources, as the amount required for re-hydration (50-80mmol/L) is in excess of that found in most commercially available sports drinks.

Most importantly, the post exercise meal should be planned as it should be practical to be implemented.  Food may be available, but often snacks & sports supplements can be easier as they are more portable. Don’t leave this to chance!

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