Nutritional Tips for a Healthy Recovery Phase

23 September 2010
By USAT Coach Andrew Johnson (featured in the TrainingPeaks Official Blog)

Overtraining is often seen as pushing your body too far in training, but it can also be due to poor recovery. That is, had the athlete been more attentive to their recovery, they may not have pushed their body into that depleted state. Rather than overtraining, the athlete has actually under-recovered. This is why one of my favorite sayings as a coach is “the only thing you need to take more seriously than your training is your recovery”. This singular statement illustrates how important recovery really is.

I put recovery into two categories, micro and macro. Micro recovery is the day to day cycle of refueling and repairing your body while macro recovery refers to a period when an athlete is in need of a longer period of recovery. Poor micro recovery leads to more and longer periods of macro recovery. Basically, if you don’t pay attention to the day to day needs of your body, it will catch up with you in the end.

By now, the science of recovery has been well established. Post workout, an athlete needs to ingest a good mix of carbohydrates, proteins, anti-oxidants and vitamins and minerals. A ratio of approximately 4 to 1 carbohydrates to protein has been shown to be the most effective. Your carbohydrates should come from good sources like whole grains and fruits and vegetables. Good protein choices include almond butter, cottage cheese, nuts or Greek style yogurt. In addition to good carbohydrates, fruits provide anti-oxidants as well as vitamins and minerals. Some of the best out there are blackberries, blueberries, apples and pomegranates. One of my favorite post workout meals is quinoa (a simple whole grain that also has a full spectrum of amino acids), a mix of berries, walnuts, cinnamon (very high in anti-oxidants) and bit of honey. For those that cannot stomach whole foods after a workout, there are several good recovery drinks and shakes that will do the trick.
The second step is to make good nutritional choices throughout the day. Again, choose foods that have high nutritional values like fruits and vegetables and whole grains. There is no secret here, eat what your mother told you to! This helps to keep your body ready for the coming workout. Sound nutrition on a daily basis will help you avoid pushing your body into a deep hole.

No matter how good your daily routine might be, you will need periods of macro recovery. Usually planned for after a major race or at the end of the season, this period is also key. Since training is at a minimum, good nutrition is a major factor. Here is a fantastic article by Joe Friel, that breaks down the essential nutritional needs of your body during the different phases of training.

If you are still in training season and the recovery cycle is a planned period in your training plan, your nutrition should essentially remain unchanged. Your body is still in need of quality calories to re-build itself. This is not the time to start eating junk food or gorging on pizza. Macro recovery nutrition only differs in that you may need to add more calorie dense foods to your diet. If you have lost significant weight due to heavy training, you may need to add some foods you haven’t eaten in awhile.

While training for an Ironman a few years back, I was told that I was losing too much weight. The solution was to calorie dense foods back into my diet. I found the healthiest options I could, this meant adding cheese to my salads, eating more nuts, peanut butter and I switched to regular butter. I even ate organic pop tarts and while not the healthiest thing, they provided me with much needed calories.

Athletes also need to take a break at the end of the season, or after a major race. This period is typically longer than if the athlete were in season and allows the athlete to fully recover from a summer spent racing. Many athletes will start by digging into the foods they avoided during training. The ice cream, candy and soda suddenly come back into your routine. I believe this is as much mental as it is physical. Having avoided sweets or cheese for so long, your mind is somehow comforted by eating these foods. I know what it’s like to crave a burger or pizza for weeks and then have it placed in front of you after a race. It’s a great feeling because you’ve earned it. While I believe that you have to give into this, it has to be in moderation. So go ahead and indulge some, just don’t do it for every meal of the day. You should still try to eat healthy and limit your intake of less than healthy food. I know that if I’m going to go out and have that pizza I’ve been craving, I will have a big salad at lunch to get in some good calories. A small measure of restraint and forethought goes a long way in avoiding major weight gain.

Nutrition is a key element to performance. It provides you with the means to repair your body and stay healthy. Following a few simple guidelines will help you train longer and recover faster. If you find yourself in need of some help with nutritional planning, check out the plans available through TrainingPeaks. It is a super convenient way to get expert nutritional advice every day. As you know, one of the features of the TrainingPeaks tool is the delivery of daily emails. Contained in those emails are your workouts as well as any meals you might have planned. It is a seriously easy way to stay nutritionally balanced during the different phases of training as well as during the all-important recovery phase.

AJ Johnson is a USA Triathlon and USA Cycling Certified Coach based in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. He has worked with D3 Multisport for the past seven years coaching athletes of all levels and abilities. He has completed 13 Ironman races, including three Ironman World Championships. Along with triathlon he also competes in mountain bike races, ski events, biathlons, cyclocross and any other event that intrigues him. You can follow him on his blog and find out more about his coaching.

Read the original post at TrainingPeaks.

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