The most important thing to focus on for most athletes immediately after exercise is to restore any fluid deficit back to euhydration (which means well hydrated). A quick comparison of pre and post exercise weights will give a guideline on how much fluid to consume; for every 1 kilogram of weight lost, it should be replaced with 1.25 – 1.5 L of fluid (1). The fluid of choice should contain water and some sodium to help retain ingested fluids, and replace sweat losses. An electrolyte replacement drink can do this perfectly.
Carbohydrate adapted athletes should replace depleted glycogen stores quickly after events. When carbohydrate is consumed it is converted into muscle glycogen and liver glycogen. Glycogen is converted into energy during exercise, and therefore depleted stores make it difficult to compete after strenuous exercise. If athletes have multiple events over the day, rapid restoration of muscle glycogen is recommended. The recommendations for carbohydrate in the recovery period are 1 – 1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight per hour, during the first 4 – 6 hours to maximise effective refueling (1).
Protein intake after exercise may support glycogen resynthesis, and when consumed in close proximity to strength and endurance exercise it may also enhance muscle protein synthesis, and delay the onset of muscle soreness (1). The recommendations are to consume around 20 – 40 g of protein soon after exercise (1,2). A typical scoop of protein powder contains 25 g protein, with at least 10 g of essential amino acids. Small multiple feeds of protein (20 g every 3 hours) have been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis compared to pulse (10 g every 90 mins) or bolus feedings (40 g every 6 hours) (3).
After exercise your immune system is typically lower in function, and therefore a good intake of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods may keep your body in tip top shape. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of antioxidants (think colour), and one powerful anti-inflammatory is Omega-3 fish oils. Another 'superfood' touted as having both antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties is Beetroot juice. Recommended amounts to consume for recovery benefits have yet to be decided, and further research is needed. However, amounts recommended for the vasodilatory effect taken usually prior to exercise, are 300 – 600 mg daily – taken as a shot (75 mL) or homemade juice (500 mL)(4) where the nitrate content will vary. Of course with beetroot, some colour change in urine and stools is to be expected and possibly some gut disturbances.
The latest supplement to be consumed for rehabilitation purposes for tendon, cartilage and joint pain, is collagen hydrolysate. This is made from the bones, skins and connective tissues of animals – processed and made into gelatin powders. Vegan alternatives are pectin and agar. Recommended amounts are about 15 g of gelatin taken prior to rehabilitation exercises to encourage faster repair and recovery from a tendon or cartilage injury, or to reduce joint pain with exercise (5). You can mix collagen hydrolysate or gelatin, into smoothies or make jelly or jelly sweets.
1. Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 48(3), 543-568.
2. Moore, D. R., Robinson, M. J., Fry, J. L., Tang, J. E., Glover, E. I., Wilkinson, S. B., ... & Phillips, S. M. (2008). Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men–. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 89(1), 161-168.
3. Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Ross, M. L., Camera, D. M., West, D. W., Broad, E. M., ... & Hawley, J. A. (2013). Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. The Journal of physiology, 591(9), 2319-2331.
5. Shaw, G., Lee-Barthel, A., Ross, M. L., Wang, B., & Baar, K. (2016). Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 105(1), 136-143.