Episode 4 - Stop Ditching your Recovery Nutrition

Stop Ditching your Recovery Nutrition

Recovery nutrition is one of the most important nutrition foundations for every triathlete

If you haven’t got a personalised recovery nutrition plan, you need one! Stop under recovering and start ticking all the right boxes to get the most out of your training

In this episode you will learn:

  • Why recovery is so important
  • The 4 R’s of recovery
  • How long after a training session should you eat?
  • When to be aggressive with your recovery nutrition and when it doesn’t matter
  • The best post-training foods
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Episode Transcription

EP 4 – Stop Ditching your Recovery Nutrition

Welcome to this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. Before we get into today's episode, I want to make sure that you've got my free triathlon nutrition checklist. It's a 50-point checklist to see how well you're nailing your nutrition. You can get it at www.dietitinapproved.com/checklist.

Alright, today's episode is all about recovery nutrition. Really commonly I see clients with no planned recovery nutrition from training or their race. They're not organized and by the time they get to eat, it's way too late. And what happens is if you don't do a good job of your recovery, your immune system is actually compromised. So you can fall into a heap or get sick maybe one to two weeks later after a big race. And you could also have horrendous DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) because you're not supporting your muscle recovery and repair properly.

So my goal with this episode today, is to help you try and have a clear framework for your recovery nutrition. I want you to know exactly what boxes to tick to give you the right building blocks to repair your muscles and refuel again and rehydrate properly. I want you to feel confident, so you know you're hitting the right targets for you. And putting back into the body exactly what it needs.

You'll be able to back up and recover faster and better so that you can perform better in your next training session. You'll have less (hopefully) muscle soreness and fatigue and try to avoid those really horrendous DOMS. It will help you relax your immune system so that you're at lower risk of getting sick all the time. And if overall energy availability is a problem for you, then it's trying to make sure you have a regular menstrual cycle if you're a female. And also make sure your male sex hormones for guys don't go too low too. And with proper recovery, you can adapt to that stress of exercise because we know that we only adapt from the sessions that we recover from. Which is why recovery is just so important. I always plan it as part of a race nutrition plan and meal plan.

So what we're going to go through today is:

  • the 4 R's of recovery
  • How long after a session should you eat?
  • when to be aggressive with your recovery nutrition and when it doesn't matter,
  • and also the best post-training foods


Alright, so let's tick the right boxes with our recovery. I always talk about the 4 R's of recovery, there's potentially more but from a nutrition perspective, these are the best bang for your buck nutritional principles that you need to implement in that recovery window.


  1.  Refuel

So the first R is Refuel. And that's refilling our muscle glycogen stores with carbohydrate. And we know that if we empty them, it can take 24 to 48 hours to refill them back up again. You know, if you've ever bonked or hit the wall, where you’re like literally trying to scrape yourself off the bitumen. That's because your muscle glycogen stores are empty. And so it's going to take a little bit of time for them to fill back up again. It's not like putting fuel in a car where you instantaneously fill the tank up, you know, might take a couple of minutes, but it's pretty instant. Filling up your muscle glycogen fuel tank does take time. If you listened to a previous episode, you'll know that the higher the intensity and the duration of the session, we use more muscle glycogen. So you want to probably eat more carbohydrate for recovery after those big, longer, high-intensity sessions.1

Some good news for coffee drinkers, we know that caffeine promotes glycogen storage. Do I need to say that again? So having a coffee after exercise is actually a good thing. So big thumbs up for that post-ride coffee as long as you're ticking off the other boxes for recovery as well. But caffeine does help with glycogen re-storage. So in that recovery window, we want to make sure we've got the right amount of carbohydrate for you to refill our fuel tank so we can back up and go again.


  1.  Repair

The second R is Repair. And here we want to make sure we put the amino acid building blocks or protein back in to help with muscle damage and repair. But also all of our hormones and enzymes are made up of amino acids. So It's really important for the whole recovery process that this happens. We want to aim for around 20g to 30g of high biological value protein. So that's our animal sources of protein, they are absorbed the best. But you might need a bit more say like 40g if you're a master's athlete or you're relying on plant-based protein sources because they don't have the full range of amino acids like our animal sources do. So you might need a bit more to absorb them. And also combining different foods so that we get the complete range of amino acids that we need.


  1.  Rehydrate

Number 3 is Rehydrate. So most people kind of do this anyway. But we want to put fluid, you know, plus or minus electrolytes back in to replace our sweat losses that we've just lost in that session. And the amount you rehydrate with obviously depends on your sweat losses. It's highly individual. So having an understanding of your hydration and sweat needs is really important.

Water is fine. You don't need anything fancy, you don't need to be sucking back those electrolyte tablets all the time to rehydrate. If you're just drinking water with meals, there's naturally electrolytes in food. And so that can assist with fluid retention if you're dripping it in with your recovery meal. And also in the next sort of 2 to 6 hours after exercise depending on what your sweat needs are. There is a bit of research in beer as rehydration and milk and other types of fluids to see which hydrates the best. And we might actually get Dr. Ben Desbrow on the show to talk about his research in beer which is pretty cool. But milk has been shown to be more effective than sports drink with rehydration. But also if we're drinking liquids with food, then that's going to do a good job of your rehydration anyway without needing anything fancy.


  1.  Revitalise

Now, the 4th R is Revitalise. And this is the one that no one gets. And by revitalize, I mean putting vitamins and minerals in the system as well. Because a lot of these are the precursors for your recovery pathways. But most people go for things like a piece of toast with egg, right? So you're getting your carbs from the toast, you're getting your protein from the egg. And then that's it. They're not thinking about the other ‘R’ where we want to try and put some colour on the plate. So I'd encourage you if you're doing things like eggs on toast for your recovery to add some spinach, some tomatoes, some mushrooms, any of those colours, because that's also still really important.

We kind of get stuck in this trap of thinking about macros all the time. Like I hear people talking all the time about needing more macros and meeting their macros and getting enough carbs and protein and all that rubbish. But really, you also need a whole range of colourful foods too, particularly if you're an active person because you need those things to function.

So we want to refuel with carbs, repair with protein, rehydrate with just water is fine and then revitalize with some sort of colour on your plate. Whether that's like salad or veggies, or even things like berries that go into a smoothie or on your muesli ball, just something that is giving you another layer of nutritional complexity by putting all of those good building blocks in.

For my Triathlon Nutrition Academy peeps, we actually walk through a recovering nutrition calculator. So it's working out specifically what YOU need to nail your recovery. So you're ticking off those 4 boxes, but your carbohydrate needs are really individual and you know like recovery may not be breakfast, either. It could be dinner, it could be a snack. So it's just getting an understanding of how to tick those boxes off right, for you. Because again, there's no one size fits all. It's not a blanket – here's a recovery meal, go do it. Every time I write a meal plan, I always give people a couple of options for their recovery breakfast or dinner or snack or whatever it is but it's specific to them.


Let me know if this sounds like you. Do you feel exhausted by the end of the training week? Do you crave sweets in the afternoon and feel like you need a nap? Training for 3 disciplines can be absolutely exhausting if you haven't dialled in your nutrition. It can be frustrating when you can't quite piece together the solid race performance you know you're capable of. And confusing when there's so much information out there. But you're not sure what's the right method for you.

My goal for you is to unlock your true potential and feel like a supercharged triathlete. Firing on all cylinders, full of energy and not only smashing quality training sessions, performing in every race too. If you're finally ready to start nailing your nutrition, join a powerful community of like-minded athletes in the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program. Head to www.dietitianapproved.com/academy to check it out now. For less than the cost of a coffee a day, you will finally have a plan for your nutrition instead of winging it and hoping for the best.


You also get bonus points for no alcohol in that recovery window because we know that alcohol blocks our muscle protein synthesis pathways. So if you're going to the pub after you finished your race, or if you like to have a drink in the evenings most nights, just think about that. I'm not here to say, don't ever drink, but maybe time your alcohol so that it's away from really big hard training sessions and do a really good job of your recovery first. So tick off those 4 R’s first, before getting wild at the pub or the bar.

One of my clients is in mountain biker and her husband is a winemaker. So alcohol like wine is always in their house. And you know, it's her job as the supportive partner to taste it. But for her as a long endurance mountain biker, what we did is we talked about alcohol timing. So she drinks strategically. She doesn't have alcohol after massive big long rides anymore. Where she'd finished a massive ride and then have a boozy lunch and then fall into a heap. She doesn't do that anymore. But she still enjoys wine occasionally. And she controls the quantities too, but it's systematic and it's away from big training sessions. So she's not doing a poor job of her muscle recovery and repair.

Another good question I get asked is, how long after a session should you eat? And with most things my answer is, it depends. It depends on who you are, what your goals are, like whether you've got a performance goal, or it's more of a body composition goal, how long until you train again, that's also really important. But I like to talk about a window of opportunity. Because we know that our recovery enzymes and hormones, they peak at about 60 minutes after exercise. So if you're eating your recovery meal an hour after exercise, it's too late, because it takes a while for that food to digest and break down and be pulled apart into the single building blocks that are usable. And we want that to align with that 60-minute hormone enzyme peak. If you're eating it an hour, it's not going to digest and break down and be there ready for that recovery process.

So we want to try and have our recovery meal way before that. So there's time for the food to be broken down and digested into single building blocks to meet that enzyme peak at 60 minutes. So if you're having something really quick and easy to digest, like I’m thinking a smoothie off the top of my head, you might be okay getting away with sort of 45 minutes after exercise because that's going to be digested quickly and there available for that 60-minute peak. But if you're eating something much more complex that takes a while to digest and break down, then you might want to get it in earlier to be there available for that peak.

Now we know it can take up to 24 hours to replenish your muscle glycogen stores when they're completely depleted. So when your turnaround time for training is shorter, then you might want to be more aggressive with your recovery nutrition. So if you've got a session in the afternoon or your training again in less than 8 hours, then I would definitely be prioritising getting your recovery nutrition in within 30 minutes - get amongst it. But conversely, there's also times where it's maybe not so important to be aggressive. Like if you're not training again for 24-48 hours, then maybe you don't need to be so aggressive.

There are some metabolic adaptations that happen by not feeding immediately. So like everything, it's individualised, and you want to have a periodised approach across your week. Like, there might be sessions where you need to be super aggressive with your recovery. And there might be sessions that you don't need to be so aggressive. Or it could also depend where you are in your training season. Like whether you're in peak race season, or if you're in your offseason. So again, like I think you should have a different strategy depending on what's going on and what you're trying to achieve.

On that bit of a side note, if you're somebody that delays their recovery nutrition and then is absolutely starving later and the floodgates open for lunch and then you can't close them, then no matter what's going on, I'd probably look at just maximising your recovery and getting food in within that window of opportunity. That's not setting the rest of your day up properly if you're doing that.

You might be somebody that's more guided by their appetite for recovery nutrition. And generally that's not a good strategy either because your appetite is blunted by high-intensity exercise. And if you've done not a lot of training or you're new to the sport and then you suddenly start doing triathlon training or you've had a break and then you're back, chances are your appetite is not caught up to how much calories or how much energy you're actually burning in that session for a good week or two. That's pretty common. And then after a couple of weeks pass, and the body is like ‘Hang on a minute, you're putting us into a calorie deficit here, what's going on?’. It's going to send out all your hunger hormones to make that catch-up.

So don't be guided by your appetite in that recovery window. If you're somebody that is not hungry and delays recovery for hours then maybe a bit of force-feeding might be useful here, to just get into the habit and get in the rhythm of being more aggressive with your recovery.

If you are not doing anything at the moment at all, then don't worry about the periodisation approach or what's going on with your season or anything like that. Just start by getting in the habit first of having good recovery and ticking off those 4 boxes every day. Get in a good foundational habit first, before you start layering in the more complicated sports nutrition principles, I think that's really important.

We also need to consider your overall energy availability. Now, if you're somebody that is in low energy availability, and if you don't know what that is, we'll cover it in another podcast episode. But if you're somebody that doesn't have a menstrual cycle or you're a male that has low testosterone, then I would suggest being more aggressive with your recovery nutrition always until you have a resumption of that cycle or your testosterone levels are back up. Because we don't want to be putting the body into so much of a hole. We don't want to stress it out to the point where it doesn't know where its next feed is coming from. Or it doesn't have enough overall energy available in that day to support its daily functions, let alone training.

If you're someone that finds that you're falling into a heap, say come Friday, you might need to look at your recovery practice to see if that's an area that you can work on. And try and get some energy towards that back end of the week. If that's you, it tells me you're not doing a good job of your nutrition somewhere if you're shattered by Friday.

And with everything with nutrition, it needs an individualised approach. You need to have a look at the big picture for you, what your goals are, what your training week looks like. And where you are in your overall racing calendar – in the month, in the year, in the offseason, in the on season. That sort of stuff guides what you do with your recovery, whether you're aggressive, or whether you're not. Because I think you need to be strategic with what you're doing.

So if you don't have your own recovery nutrition plan, I really encourage you to develop one. Stop under recovering and start ticking off all those right boxes to get the most out of your training.

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