Optimal Nutrition for Sports Recovery & Other Tips with female doing standing backbend

Optimal Nutrition for Sports Recovery & Other Tips

We know that sports performance is a key factor to an athlete’s success, but what happens once training (or competition) ends & sports recovery begins?

Much like the “What came first? The chicken or the egg?” debate, one could argue that recovery is what drives performance, and therefore, should be priority #1.

Think about it. If you can’t recover from that training session, then how productive & useful will you be in the next one? Or, more importantly, during competition?

In this follow-up post, we’ll discuss how to maximize your recovery efforts in order to boost your future training & competition performance.

This post contains affiliate links*. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.

what comes first? sports performance or sports recovery? with a female runner stretching her right quadricep in a standing position on a road

>>> In case you missed it, check out this article on Optimal Nutrition for Sports Performance first <<<

Information presented in this post is intended as a personal and professional representation of my views on food, nutrition, and sports nutrition, and should not be replaced with medical advice. Be sure to check out our disclosures.

The contents of The Pineapple Expressionist is intended for informational and educational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information provided by this site is solely at your own risk. Consult a physician before starting any exercise regimen. 

What is Sports Recovery?

Regardless of what type of athlete you may be or how intense training was, every athlete needs to take time to recover from that training session through proper nutrition and rest.

Recovery is one of the most critical components to health, fitness, mental toughness, follow-through, and compliance. So there’s still lots of work to be done even after you head to the locker room!

Some of the most common side-effects to try to avoid after training include: “delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), perceived fatigue, muscle damage, and inflammatory markers after physical exercise”.

Sports recovery includes:

Image of Roy Kent from Apple TV's Ted Lasso in ice bath scene in blue trash can and the Roy Kent Chant - Roy Kent! He's here! He's there! He's every- f&$#in'-where! Roy Kent!
From Ted Lasso on Apple TV+
  • Active rest days (i.e. going for a walk, yoga, foam rolling)
  • Inactive rest days (i.e. complete relaxation, no exertion)
  • Muscle recovery (i.e. ice baths, Epsom salt soaks, deep tissue massage)
  • Proper nutrition & nutrient timing
  • Adequate hydration & rehydration
  • Stress management
  • Self-care healing habits
  • Healthy sleep habits

Optimal Nutrition for Sports Recovery

Remember that cannabis can help to stimulate appetite, and could be just the thing an athlete needs to ensure they consume enough post-workout nutrition.

I’m not saying that this is what everyone should do, but for myself, cannabis can help improve my appetite after a high-intensity workout when appetite tends to diminish.

Nutrition for sports recovery is critical to prevent lean muscle tissue breakdown, repair working muscles in preparation for hypertrophy, restore glycogen (the storage form of glucose for later use/fuel) & initiate muscle protein synthesis, to name a few.

Image with wording Sports recovery nutrition should serve as tasty FUNctional fuel, NOT AS A PUNISHMENT with real images of bananas, spiraled pasta, dried rice and legumes, baguettes, eggs in shell in a bowl, oatmeal bowl, oranges, green apple, kiwi and a glass of water on a white background

Depending on your sport and goals, looking for carb-to-protein ratios of at least 2:1, but more optimally 3:1 (i.e. 75g carbs, 25g protein) when crafting your post-workout recovery meal or snack. (6)

Protein Power

According to this study, 0.72 g protein/lb (or 1.6 g/kg) of body weight appeared to maximize strength-training induced gains in muscle mass with other participants seeing results at protein intakes as high as 1.0 g protein/lb (or 2.2 g/kg) of body weight.

Take note that these are recommended ranges, not hard and fast numbers for every individual. Each individual will respond to a certain protein dose differently (much like cannabis!).

I’ve had several athletes see success with protein intakes as low as 0.55 g protein/lb (1.2 g/kg), whereas others have needed closer to 1.0 g protein/lb (2.2 g/kg). It just depends on the person, their body size & type, activity, intensity & frequency of training.

Don’t Skimp on Carbs! 

They’re not the enemy, they’ve just been given a bad rep.

Not only critical for insulin secretion to promote glycogen synthesis, ingesting 0.5-0.7g carbs/lb (or 1.1-1.5g/kg) of body weight within about 30 minutes post-exercise also helps to restore glycogen.

Glycogen is a branched chain of glucose molecules that’s hydrolyzed into single glucose molecules for fuel, highly similar in structure to starch. Choose complex or starchy carbohydrates* to aid in glycogen replenishment. (5)

Nutrient Timing

You may have heard of the “anabolic window”, which is a theory that promotes maximizing results by ingesting recovery nutrition within a certain timeframe or “window”. The general “rule” or “goal” of the anabolic window is to take in nutrition within 15-60 minutes after finishing a workout.

However, there are several variables with a few caveats.

For example, research promotes that glycogen is maximized & restored faster within a 30-60 minute window for individuals training multiple times a day, such as a professional athlete. Whereas the recreational athlete has more wiggle room with this recovery window.

Image of Keep Going. Keep growing. with muscular male athlete's back standing upright with arms out like the letter T on black background

In addition, muscle protein synthesis (MPS) can last for up to 36 hours in trained individuals.

At the 4-hour mark, we see a 50% elevation in MPS rates, then up to 109% within 24 hours post-exercise, allowing far greater flexibility than what’s typically perceived.

So when it comes to protein, research shows that you don’t need to ingest it as quickly as many, many supplement companies would have you believe. Instead, focus on your protein goal throughout the day.

Best Foods for Sports Recovery

There are lots of different ways to attack sports nutrition for recovery, and this list has some of my favorite food suggestions for athletes to ensure that their meals & snacks are not only nutrient-dense but tasty and functional!

Keep in mind that many foods often fall into more than one macronutrient category

Protein

Protein food sources for sports nutrition with images of dairy, raw beef, poultry and fish, nuts, seeds, milk, chocolate milk, protein powder in shaker and scoop, and nut butter spread on bread
  • Complementary proteins, especially if you’re a vegan or vegetarian athlete
  • Dairy (nonfat Greek yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, cream cheese)
  • Iron-rich foods
    • Beans
    • Eggs
    • Fatty fish
    • Fortified, whole grain cereals
    • Ground meats
    • Lean poultry
    • Red meat
    • Quinoa
  • Lowfat chocolate milk (often the perfect blend of protein, carbohydrates & fat post-workout – consider lactose-friendly varieties if consuming prior to a workout or right after a high-intensity session to ease digestion)
  • Milk or milk substitutes
  • Nut butter, nuts & seeds
  • Protein powder mixed with water (or milk for more calories/protein) & fruit of choice

Carbohydrates

  • Bagels*
  • Fruit & vegetables (to restore electrolytes/avoid muscle cramping)
    • Potassium-rich (K) produce such as cantaloupe, citrus fruits, melons, dried fruits, white & sweet potatoes, broccoli, & spinach
    • Iron-rich (Fe) foods: dark, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, fortified cereals
    • For more information, check out Eat Your Electrolytes.
  • Pasta*
  • Potatoes/sweet potatoes*
  • Rice*
  • Tortillas
  • Whole grains* (not whole wheat – wheat is often refined like white bread products and dyed brown; whole-grain is really what you want to look for)
    • Crackers, sprouted grain bread, corn, pita
Try using butter/ghee or coconut/MCT oil with lactose-friendly milk in your coffee instead of traditional creamer with images of cantaloupe, spinach, avocado toast, butter, coffee, oils, nuts, salmon, bananas, hardboiled eggs, dried pasta and rice, potatoes and bread on a wooden backround

Fats

  • Avocado oil (for cooking)
  • Butter or ghee (for cooking, to add to coffee, foods, etc.)
  • Coconut or MCT oil (for cooking, to add to coffee, etc.)
  • Fatty fish
  • Ground meats
    • Depending on athlete’s goals, 97/3, 85/15, 80/20 are good options
    • Need to put on weight? Go for 85/15 or 80/20
    • Trying to lean out? Go for 97/3 or even 95/5 if you can find it
  • Hummus (as a condiment on wraps and sandwiches)
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Olive oil (for dressings at room temperature)

Other

  • Sodium/table salt (especially for salty sweaters)
  • Salt substitutes such as Mrs. Dash (potassium chloride – KCl) for those sensitive to salt or athletes with high blood pressure

The Importance of Sleep for Sports Recovery

If we’re not well-rested, then productivity, performance & focus will suffer. This is the time for your body to reset, and the quantity AND quality of your sleep will affect that.

The 5 Stages of Sleep

There are 5 stages of sleep. (1)

Stage 1 is the lightest sleep stage lasting ~20 minutes in which you can be easily woken.

Stage 2 involves deeper sleep with greater difficulty to wake & accounts for about half of that night’s sleep.

Stage 3 is comprised of a few minutes of transition time (we don’t spend too much time here).

Stage 4 involves deep sleep & muscle paralysis.

Stage 5 is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the deepest stage of sleep.

The 5 Stages of Sleep Infographic, Stage 1 lightest sleep stage lasting approx. 20 minutes easy to be woken, Stage 2 deeper sleep with greater difficulty to wake & accounts for about 1/2 of that night’s sleep, Stage 3 a few minutes of transition time (we don’t spend too much time here), Stage 4 deep sleep muscle paralysis, Stage 5 REM sleep deepest stage of sleep

However, many people, athlete or not, do not get quality and/or enough sleep. Sure, maybe you “slept” for 8 hours like we’re always told to do, but how long were you actually asleep? Which stage did you get to?

For those with sleep issues, disruptions, or disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea, achieving stage 4 or 5 may be nearly impossible. But how can you tell? Well, how do you feel when you sit up in bed first thing in the morning?

If you feel refreshed with a quick squint of your eyes & a big yawn wakes you up, congratulations! You just got some quality sleep & are hopefully ready to take on the day.

Or did you wake up feeling groggy, grumpy, and (already) tired? Then there’s some room for improvement.

Bedtime Prep

Luckily, there are a few things we can do to improve our sleep patterns & quality.

Gif of Boo from Disney's Monsters, Inc. giggly then passing out to sleep in bed

Bedtime Prep Checklist (1)

  • Try to avoid eating ~3 hours before bedtime
  • Make yourself some decaf tea
  • Draw a warm bath with Epsom salt
  • Dim lights to “mood” lighting with candles
  • Turn on ambient music at a low volume
  • Set an essential oil diffuser with calming scents like lavender or eucalyptus
  • Put all electronics away 60 minutes before bed

Bedroom Prep Checklist (1)

  • Reduce EMF exposure in your bedroom by removing or turning off all electronics
  • Use a non-electric alarm clock instead of a cell phone
  • Meditate, candle gaze, or lightly stretch 10-30 minutes before getting into bed

Relish in Recovery

As you can see, recovery is an incredibly critical process to improve sports performance. We tend to have the mindset that if we’re not hustling, then we’re not improving, which is simply untrue.

The most rewarding thing you can do for your own sports performance (and increased longevity) is to take the time to rest, recover, and relish in those healing benefits. Your future self with thank you for it!


>>> If you found this article to be useful, then you’ll want to make sure to go back & read Optimal Nutrition for Sports Performance before getting started on your fitness journey! <<<


Share this post with anyone looking to respect their own recovery a bit more!


This post contains affiliate links* below. If you make a purchase, I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.


Please be sure to check out our disclosures.


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