Sports Nutrition for Post-Race Recovery


by Marewa Kraak April 03, 2015

With so much focus on getting race day & training nutrition right, the nutrition required for optimal post-event recovery is often overlooked. Example: we recently attended a sports event where a competing family member was offered a choice of sports drink or a beer at the finish chute. No prizes for guessing he reached for the beer!

Although this isn’t a problem by itself (after all, it was well earned), the problem for him arose about five minutes later when cramping set in, which made for a very long and painful journey home. And needless to say, he was desperately seeking salty fries from the nearest fast-food outlet.  

So what’s your post race strategy? It’s easy to get caught up in the buzz of completing an event and overlook what your body needs for optimal recovery, so here’s a few basic tips that your body will thank you for. By paying attention to your post-race nutrition, your muscles are likely to recover much quicker. So don’t reach for that finish line beer just yet …  

Fuel up within 30 minutes of your race
Even if it’s your last event of the season, prioritize getting your post-race nutrition within the important 30-minute window from the time you finish. Carbohydrate and protein are priorities, as this will help your body to start the important repair & re-build of muscles.  

Should I aim for more carbohydrates or protein after my race?
Both are critical for full recovery after training or an event. 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.  
  • Aim for 1 gram of carbohydrate per 1 kilogram of body weight (approx 0.4 grams per pound of body weight). This should be repeated hourly until you get time for a main meal and eating patterns return to normal.
Protein is vital for the growth and repair of muscle tissue. Ensuring you replenish stores after each training session or event can significantly reduce muscle soreness the following day.  
  • Aim for 20g of protein as the magic number that you need to consume within 30 minutes of your event to optimise the recovery process.

Planning ahead
You plan your training nutrition and you plan your race day nutrition. So just take one more step and plan your post-race nutrition. Keep it simple! Plan ahead so you have something easy to grab at the finish line waiting.  

    It can take time to connect with your support crew or gear bag after a race so a good idea is to finish any lollies or sports drink remaining from the race, as this wastes no time in getting recovery underway.   If you haven’t packed a carb/protein picnic in your finish line gear bag, don’t worry! Events often provide a range of food options at the finish village.
    Generally to achieve your recovery nutrition goals you will want to be heading towards those offering sushi, pitas, souvalaki or similar food stalls. Many events list on their website which stalls will be at the finish line, so have a quick look and remember to pack some cash in your gear bag.  

    Hydration
    Proper hydration is another important area for events lasting longer then an hour and can be easily overlooked (especially with beer on offer). Sports drink with carbohydrates is an ideal choice directly after a race as it will continue to replace lost electrolytes, refuel your muscles with glycogen and rehydrate you. Palatability of your chosen drink should help you to drink more so be sure to use your favourite flavour.
    Events around 90-120 minutes may only require around a 500 – 750ml of sports drink after your event, before you move onto the plain water. However two and even three bottles or more post race could be required for events lasting upwards of two hours or very intense efforts.  
    The challenge is to read your body and decide what is best for you. For example if you get a headache an hour after your race, chances are you are still dehydrated. Alternatively if you breezed through your race and are feeling fresh then water should be adequate. Focus on hydration for the first 4-6 hours post race.  

    Is hydration important during cooler months?
    Yes! Hydration is still very important and if you’re struggling to warm up in cooler weather with cold drinks then try herbal teas or have some room temperature beverages on hand. For recovery suggestions opt for something warm like Milo, hot chocolate or soup with bread.  

    Celebrate your achievement!
    Finally, remember to refuel before enjoying your well earned celebrations. Save the post-race toast until after you have recovered. This is vital to your overall recovery and a simple task to tick off if planning a celebratory evening ahead. Keep snacking every 30-60 min after your race until you can get a main meal onboard.  
    If you choose to indulge in alcoholic beverages during your celebrations just remember that alcohol dehydrates the body so add this to the stress the body has already undertaken and you may just be lining yourself up for a decent hangover. Again, this is where electrolyte sports drink can be really handy for re-hydration (including the morning after) so have some on hand. Be sure to drink plain water in between alcoholic drinks to be kind to your body.


    Marewa Kraak
    Marewa Kraak

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