Food provides the building blocks for recovery and adaptations. Adequate nutrition speeds up the recovery process and maximizes the extent your body can adapt to become stronger, faster and more powerful.
What happens when you train?
During training you put stress on your body so that by the end of the session you are in a worse position than when you started. In the next few hours, your body is in overdrive trying to repair damaged cells. Once you are back to normal functioning, your body then goes through physiological changes to adapt to the training stimulus so that next time, you are able to handle things better.
During training your body has also metabolized carbohydrates, fats and proteins to produce energy. In high intensity training you will use more carbohydrates. During lower intensity training you may use a mix of carbs and fats. After or during your session you may feel fatigued if your body has used all the carbohydrates available.
Not enough fluids may also leave you feeling fatigued. Fluid is used to regulate your body temperature. When you over-heat you don't function as efficiently. Fluid is also important for blood flow. Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to your working muscles. When you are dehydrated your blood is thicker and doesn't travel as easily to your working muscles which means your heart has to work harder and you tire faster.
Inflammation is part of your body’s natural response to stress to prevent inury and damage. When your body senses that something’s not right, blood flow to the area is increased and special repair cells are sent to the damaged area. During intense training sessions you are likely to cause some degree of damage to your muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons. As your body heals through the inflammatory process, you become stronger and more durable for next time.
Although some inflammation helps improve your fitness and performance, high levels of inflammation over a long period of time can be damaging your performance and overall health.
High inflammation is associated with fatigue and poor mood, high risk of chronic disease and poor gut health. Nutrition can be used to help manage inflammation if you have a high training load.
Muscle damage & growth
During resistance training your muscle will tear slightly. Your body’s recognizes the damage and commences the inflammatory processes allowing those repair cells access to the damaged muscle. During this process these cells replicate mature muscle cells to form new protein strands and heal the damaged cells.
What should you eat after training?
There are 2 parts to post training nutrition:
Your initial post training meal
Your standard diet and all meals that follow the session for the next 48 hours
1- IMMEDIATE POST TRAINING MEAL
The goals of this meal is to
Refuel = your body’s energy supply so you don’t feel fatigued for the rest of the day’s activities.
Repair = damaged muscle cells and stimulate the formation of new muscle proteins
Rehydrate = with plenty of fluids to keep a steady flow of nutrients and oxygen to muscle cells as they repair.
Refuel with carbohydrates. By having carbs after a session, it stops your body from using protein as an energy source and allows the protein you consume to be used to repair and rebuild your muscles. The amount will depend on the intensity and duration of the session. See Nutrition for Sports Performance Part 1 for examples of carbohydrate foods.
Repair with protein. Proteins provide the building blocks your muscles need to repair the damaged cells. There is a specific amino acid called Leucine which has been found to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. By making sure you consume 2-3g of Leucine in your post training meal you maximise muscle growth. Approximately 20-30g of protein will give you adequate Leucine.
Rehydrate with fluids. Maintain a steady flow of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles to promote recovery by rehydrating with water. We discussed differences in sports drinks, coconut water, hydrolyse and plain water in Nutrition for Sports Performance Part 2. Same concepts apply - whatever fluids you choose, make sure you drink something! The harder you worked and the hotter the environment the more fluid you will need after the session.
Unfortunately, alcohol doesn't count. Alcohol will cause further dehydration and impair muscle repair and growth - not what you want after training! If you do go out for a drink after your comp, make sure you stay hydrated during the game and try having an electrolyte solution before going out.
2 - ALL MEALS FOLLOWING
Your body may have recovered after the session but adaptations (your body getting stronger, fitter and faster in response to the stimulus) continue hours to days after the session. Each meal following is a chance to provide your body with the energy and nutrients.
Focus on including plenty of vegetables, wholegrains, fruits, lean meats, fish and tofu, dairy, legumes and nuts in your meals across the day. Vegetables and fruit provide your body with antioxidants which help heal damaged cells after exercise. Plenty of plant fats like chia seeds, flax seeds/oil, nuts and oily fish are great for reducing inflammation caused by regular and intense exercise sessions. Continue choosing foods containing 20g of protein at meals and snacks to keep promoting muscle synthesis.
Although there is always more to mention, by following these tips you will give your body the right fuels and building blocks to recover and adapt to training or competition.
Give it a go!