It was about 30 degrees, but felt like 35. We were sitting shoulder to shoulder, under the marquee waiting for the presentations to start. Despite being at the beach, there was no breeze at all. Nothing. Nuda. All of a sudden, a wave of exhaustion came over me. I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t think. I just kept looking at my boyfriend, pleading with my puppy dog eyes for the commentators to get on with the presentations. This was the moment I experienced
first hand how important recovery nutrition is!
I had just raced my first Olympic (or standard) distance triathlon. And I had unexpectedly placed! Presentations were soon after the race, or supposed to be… Meaning there wasn’t enough time to eat lunch at one of the quirky cafes along the Kingscliff Esplanade. And unlucky for me, this was the only time I hadn’t packed snacks with me (What was I thinking?!). So, as the presentations went on, minutes ticked by slowly. I think it was almost 1.5 hours later that we made it to lunch. I was starving. Muscles shaking, dehydrated, sweating, and getting hangry! So
much so, that I had to order a thick slice of carrot cake to scoff while I waited for my burger. Boy,
was that the best damn slice of carrot cake I’ve ever had!
I can bet I am not the only one who has experienced this. All athletes at one point in their life have struggled with recovery nutrition. 9 times out of 10, you finish training dripping with sweat, exhausted and often dehydrated. The last thing you want to do is eat…unless you’ve just been swimming, or are obsessed with food like me!
The most common thing athletes tell me, is that they always plan to eat something after they’ve cooled down, but time gets away. The next thing you know, you need to shower, get ready, and race out the door to work. All of a sudden it’s been two hours since training finished, and you’re starving.
The first two hours after training are the most critical in your recovery, especially if you have to backup with another session again in less than 8-12 hours. This is the time period when our body is repairing. Our immune system is suppressed in response to exercise-induced inflammation, our muscle cells are trying to repair and grow, and we need to replace glycogen stores (the carbohydrates our muscles use for fuel). Foods rich in carbohydrates and protein
support the recovery process; along with water and optimal rest/ sleep.
Depending on your training session (the intensity and duration), post-workout nutritional requirements can change. Generally though, we want to aim to eat within 45-60 minutes of exercise. It’s best to aim for either:
- a carbohydrate-protein rich snack (followed by a complete meal within 2 hours); or
- a complete meal with protein, carbs, healthy fats and colour (fruits & veggies).
My favourite go-to snacks after training include:
- Greek or high protein yoghurt + berries + rolled oats or muesli
- Smoothie: banana + berries + cow’s milk + tablespoon of oats + teaspoon of peanut butter or almonds + cinnamon
- Grainy crackers with hummus, cheese and tomato
- Glass of chocolate milk (usually with milo or cacao powder)
- Toast with peanut butter and banana
Otherwise I love to eat these meals after training, depending on the time of day :
- Eggs on grain toast
- Weet-bix with rolled oats/ muesli + nuts and seeds + berries or banana + cow’s milk
- Overnight oats – PERFECT if travelling after training or you have an early start
- Falafel wrap with cheese, salad and hummus
- Pasta dishes with lean protein and big side salad
- Curry with brown rice and veggies
- Bulked Salad: your favourite salad veggies + brown rice + roast potato/pumpkin +
chickpeas or chicken or fish
- Tuna salad sandwich
Ideally, it’s beneficial to consume small amounts of protein regularly throughout the day, rather than large amounts at once. That is because our body can actually only digest around 20-25g of protein at a time. Therefore, any extra protein we eat is excreted. I prefer to eat smaller meals and frequent snacks throughout the day – so I don’t have to worry about downing that big protein shake and 3 egg omelette all at once. Spreading protein intake across the entire day helps to facilitate the continual recovery process your body is under; especially after strength sessions.
One of my biggest tips, which has saved me many times now from reliving that day at Kingscliff, is to BE PREPARED. Spending an extra 5-10 minutes the night before or the morning before heading to training can make such a difference. It can also help you save money on food and save up for the next new gadget instead. Plan ahead and think:
- Am I travelling after training? When will I eat? Do I need to pack food?
- Can I pack cold food if travelling? (Buying a lunch bag & ice bricks will be your biggest
- What time of day is training? Will I need a snack or meal afterwards?
I love to keep non-perishable snacks in my car or training bag too, in case I run out of time to prepare something. In the past you would have been able to find in my car:
- Sports bars
- Muesli and nut bars
- Protein bars
- Trail mix