Meal and Snacks for Recovery After Competition and Training

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BY FAITH ALICIEA

At the end of the day after a long horse show, all I want to do is sleep! But there’s a voice in the back of my head—one of my good friend and registered dietitian, Laura, that says it’s time to recover. 

Laura says, “Recovery nutrition starts immediately after you finish exercise, training, practice, or competition. During exercise, the body is primarily using carbohydrates as fuel to make the body function at an optimal level. Once the carbohydrates in the bloodstream have been completely used up, the body then begins to burn the carbohydrates stored in the muscles and liver. It is important to refuel the body with carbohydrates, protein, and fluids after exercise in order to replenish nutrient and hydration stores and repair and rebuild muscle tissues. Here are some goals, guidelines, and tips for proper recovery nutrition to ensure that you are ready to go the next day and perform at optimal athletic levels.” 

Goals of Recovery Nutrition

  • Replenish fluid and electrolytes that were lost from sweating, 
  • Replenish fuel in the muscles that was burned during exercise
  • Consume protein to repair and build muscle tissue
  • Consume a snack or meal within 15-60 minutes after exercise

Post-Exercise Meal- Carbohydrates and Protein

Carbohydrates

  • If there is less than 8 hours between another workout or competition, then carbohydrates should be consumed immediately after a workout
  • 1-1.2 g/kg/hr is recommended for the first hours after a workout
  • Example: 170lb athlete wants to eat a recovery meal right after exercise
  • *To convert body weight in pounds (lb) to kilograms (kg), divide body weight (lb) by 2.2*
  • 170 lb / 2.2 kg = 77 kg
  • Immediately after exercise, athlete should be consuming 1 – 1.2 g carbohydrate per kg body weight per hour
  • 77 kg x 1 g carbohydrate = 77 grams carbohydrates
  • 77 kg x 1.2 g carbohydrate = 92 grams carbohydrates
  • Athlete should consume a recovery meal with 77-92 grams carbohydrates per hour for the first hours after a workout
  • Consuming small amounts of carbohydrate every 15-30 minutes encourages muscle glycogen synthesis for improved recovery
  • Consume fast-absorbing carbohydrates such as chocolate milk or a smoothie for quicker replenishment
  • Add 15-25 g of protein to first meal to enhance muscle repair
    • Examples: 16 oz skim milk, 2-3 large eggs, 2-3 oz lean meat
  • If there is more than 24 hours for recovery between workouts, it does not matter how many carbohydrates are consumed
    • Important to consume adequate amounts of carbohydrate and energy to the athlete’s enjoyment
  • Liquid vs. Solid Foods for Carbohydrates
    • Both are equally effective in improving performance
    • If you do not have an appetite after working out, liquid carbohydrates are easier to tolerate

Protein

  • Post-exercise protein consumption aids in muscle growth, strength gains and increases in the muscles’ ability to create energy for prolonged performance in exercise
  • Consuming ~20 grams of protein within 30-60 minutes of exercise helps with muscle growth and recovery 
  • The following foods provide 20 g of protein:
  • 2.5 cups skim milk
  • 3 oz beef
  • 3 oz chicken or turkey
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 3 eggs
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Recovery Snacks

  • 1-2 cups low-fat chocolate milk
  • Trail mix and a 8-16 oz sports drink
  • Trail mix: nuts, seeds, dried fruit
  • Graham crackers with 2 tablespoons peanut butter and 1-2 cups low-fat milk
  • ½ -1 cup Greek yogurt with ½ cup fresh fruit
  • Small apple or banana with 2 tablespoons nut butter and 1-2 cups low-fat milk
  • Fruit and yogurt smoothie
    • 1 cup low-fat milk
    • 1 cup yogurt
    • 1 cup fruit of choice
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Recovery Meals

In order to ensure optimal recovery and replenishment, follow up with a well-balanced meal in the hours after consuming a snack.

  • Stir fry: 3 oz lean steak, 1-2 cups broccoli, peppers, carrots, ½-1 cup brown rice
  • Turkey Sandwich with 1 cup low-fat milk and a small apple
  • 2 slices whole wheat bread, 3-4 slices of turkey, toppings/condiments (Options: vegetables (lettuce, tomato, onion), mustard, avocado, hummus)
  • 2-3 eggs, two slices whole wheat bread and 1 tablespoon jelly with ½ cup berries
  • 3 oz grilled chicken, small baked potato, 1 cup vegetables
  • 3 oz baked/grilled fish, ½-1 cup brown rice, 1 cup vegetables
  • 1 cup whole wheat spaghetti, tomato-based sauce, 3 oz lean ground beef 
  • Rice bowl: ½ cup beans, ¼ cup cheese, ¼ avocado, salsa, whole wheat tortilla/whole grain tortilla chips*

*3 ounces = the size of a deck of cards*

Please make sure to always consult with your doctor when changing your diet. Happy recovery!


Faith McKay-Alicea former Director of Healthcare Service at The MDA. Now a mom, small business owner of Title Boxing Club in Trexlertown, PA, an Amateur and USEF R Steward, Schooling Supervisor And Measurement Field Examiner. Never stop learning!