Vital Force Physio


Nutrition for Optimal Recovery

January 15, 2024

Refuel. Rebuild. Rehydrate. These three terms are often referred to as the three R’s of recovery nutrition. 

Recovery nutrition can be defined as the food active individuals are encouraged to consume following physical activity. Recovery nutrition is meant to nourish the body and optimize performance. This nutrition protocol varies from person to person depending on multiple factors such as the type of exercise performed, duration of exercise, body composition of the individual as well as the individual’s overall goals. 

When we exercise, our body burns glucose. Glucose can be obtained through the diet from carbohydrates and is used for energy when our bodies need a boost. If/when our body doesn’t need that quick burst of energy, the glucose is converted to glycogen and is stored in our muscles and liver. 

Carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source, which can be depleted after physical activity. If we don’t consume enough carbohydrates during the recovery period, our bodies will have to find another source of energy to burn. When glucose is not available, the body has no choice but to break down muscle tissue for energy. For active individuals, especially those focusing on weight training/muscular hypertrophy, carbohydrate consumption is going to be a necessity during the recovery period unless they want to reverse all the hard work they put in.

The concern with carbohydrates these days is not in the actual number of carbohydrates being consumed, but rather the choice of carbohydrates consumed being less desirable. For recovery nutrition, it’s important we are fueling the body with complex carbohydrates that provide the body with nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals, rather than just sugar. A great example of this would be comparing a banana to a cookie post-workout. When you eat a banana, your body is getting other nutrients besides sugar; potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and fiber. Our body then gets to use these vitamins, minerals and fiber, on top of the sugar. If we compare this to eating a cookie post-workout, our body would make a beeline for the sugar as there are no other nutrients to break down. This would not be of any benefit to our body as it’s not providing us with any vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients to aid in our recovery. By refueling our body with nutritious carbohydrates, we are supplying our brain and body with the energy it needs to not only perform at our best but feel our best too. 

When we perform an exercise, our muscles are being stretched, torn, and broken down. Because of this, protein is going to be a vital component of the recovery diet to repair/rebuild those muscle fibers. Those who engage in regular exercise require more dietary protein than sedentary individuals. For those looking to build muscle, consuming a protein intake of 1.6-2g/kg of bodyweight, per day is going to be ideal. Protein supplements can be a great tool in recovery nutrition, as long as they don’t account for more than 50% of one’s daily protein intake. 

Consuming both a carbohydrate and a protein post-workout would be the best recommendation as this allows for muscle repair, muscle growth and energy re-fuel. This will also keep blood glucose levels stable, decreasing sugar cravings throughout the day. An egg, cheese, turkey sausage and avocado breakfast sandwich is a post-workout staple of mine that provides me with quality carbohydrates and protein to nourish my recovering body. It’s quick, easy to make and can be meal prepped the night before if I’m in need of an “on-the-go” snack. 

Healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids also play an important role in recovery but are often overlooked. Omega-3’s have anti-inflammatory properties, meaning they work to decrease the stress and inflammation that’s put on the body during physical activity. Incorporating some omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, spinach, walnuts, and kidney beans can be a great bonus tool for recovery, especially for those participating in HITT style workouts. 

Re-hydrating, the final “R”, is imperative for recovery as the body can become quickly dehydrated during physical activity. Staying hydrated helps stimulate blood flow to the muscles, which in turn reduces soreness. Water also plays a part in the transportation of nutrients and flushes out toxins that could hinder the bodies recovery. It’s important to begin re-hydrating immediately following training, especially for athletes who practice more than once a day. 

Prioritizing your nutrition during the recovery period is just as important as showing up for your workout. Get up. Be active. Don’t forget to refuel, rebuild, and rehydrate!

Megan Patrick, RN, BSN, NASM-CNC, CPT of EvoNutrition is a Certified Nutritionist and Personal trainer who specializes in helping active individuals lose fat, gain muscle, and live a healthy yet enjoyable lifestyle.

Vital Force Physio performance physical therapists work closely with nutritionists like Megan to optimize their athlete’s rehab, help with recovery between therapy sessions, and maximize performance in the gym and life!

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