Nik is a full time sports marketer, freelance fitness contributor and avid Crossfitter. On his personal blog, The Amateur Athlete, Nik shares his passions for health and fitness, as well as providing his own tips on training and nutrition, with a particular emphasis on improving athletic performance.
If you’re serious about your training, you should also be serious about your recovery. And I don’t just mean getting 7+ hours of quality sleep a night and doing your fair share of pre and post training mobility. You’re also taking care of your nutrition and ensuring everything you fuel yourself with between the hours of leaving the gym and returning is strategically planned to repair and create a better you. However, if you’re not one of those people and you aren’t seeing the progressions you want, it’s time to start analyzing where you might be going wrong. A lot of the time, nutrition needs to be improved.
Why focus on nutrition?
It is advised that food and drink for any normal individual should always be monitored. However, for an athlete, it is crucial and can be the difference between making those gains or being left frustrated due to lack of progression. For an athlete, the correct nutrition plays a defining factor for one’s recovery, as well as adhering to your own personal specific goals, be it muscle building or fat loss. Recovery is defined as ‘the act of regaining or returning toward a normal or healthy state’ (1). After a hard workout, your muscles will be broken down due to the stress you’ve put them under and your body will be left depleted. You also lose a lot of body fluids from sweat. You are left dehydrated, as well as in a state of muscle fatigue. Although the endorphins may carry you through for a while, what you don’t realize is that high intensity exercise can be a stressor, especially towards your nervous system (2). One of the best ways to combat this stress alongside adequate rest, is providing yourself with the correct food and drink throughout the day in order to return your body to its optimal state and even improve its composition. From intra to post workout supplementation, to meal timing, no stone should be left unturned. So, the message is simple – if you want to be a healthy athlete, you need to get your a-game on with your nutrition!
Over the past decade, an athlete’s intake of food and drink has become extremely specific. Certain foods, food groups, as well as fluids all have their part to play in the recovery process and at different times. The reality is if you as the athlete hold up your end of the bargain in understanding how to replenish your system, you will see noticeable change and positive results in your performance. So, here is a simple list of food and drink options to get you started with your recovery.
Protein is arguably the most important nutrient to take immediately after your workout, alongside carbohydrates. Getting in the right nutrients in quickly is critical, which is why recovery shakes are a great asset nowadays due to their convenience. Needless to say, choosing the right shake is important. You want a quality source of protein, as well as a source of hydration.
Eating sufficient amounts of protein throughout the day will also help support protein synthesis, muscle recovery and building. Aim to consume protein from good quality sources such as lean meats or fish. Protein recommendations for endurance athletes are 1.2 to 1.4 g per kilogram of body weight per day, whereas those for resistance and strength-trained athletes may be as high as 1.6 to 1.7 g per kilogram of body weight per day (3). Here are some easy to make post-wod meals.
When you work out, your muscle glycogen levels are depleted, so it is extremely important to replenish them as quickly as possible. The power of carbohydrates mustn’t go unnoticed. Your body is still very much in an anabolic state post-exercise and carbohydrates work with protein to speed up repairs and restoration (4). As a guideline, consuming a 2:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein may help reduce the severity of muscle soreness. Starchy carbohydrates such as sweet potato or rice, accompanied by a protein choice, will serve as the ideal meal.
High-Glycemic Index Fruit
High-glycemic fruits are excellent foods to eat post-workout in order to rehydrate and replenish muscle glycogen store (5). In addition, certain fruits contain a host of antioxidants that can also contribute to your recovery. If you don’t fancy a big meal right away, take advantage of a simple fruit option alongside your protein shake. Fruits such as bananas, berries and apples are all super easy and convenient choices to go inside the gym bag.
Leafy Greens & Vegetables
Let’s face it, most people hate eating vegetables, but the power of these unsung heroes cannot go unnoticed. Vegetables are low in calories, rich in vitamins and minerals and have the ability to improve ones metabolic process by reducing inflammation due to their rich containment in antioxidants. Nutrient rich vegetables such as kale, broccoli and spinach to name a few options, can be a great accompaniment to almost any meal, at any time of day. There isn’t really a limit on how much veg you should eat, if anything, always aim for more than less!
Fish & Omega-3
Essential fatty acids are essential for our bodies processes and should not be overlooked in the recovery plan. Why? They help keep bones strong and lubricated, as well as reduce inflammation. Because of this, they are a staple for many athletes diet. Some of the best EFA sources come from Fish, such as salmon, cod and mackerel, as they provide a high source of omega-3, which counters muscle inflammation and therefore promotes recovery.
While whole fish should be included sufficiently in your diet, If you find it hard to get your 0mega-3 nutrients in from your meals, be sure to turn to a good quality fish oil supplement, such as O3.
Stay Hydrated with Water & Coconut Water
When it comes to hydration, there is really no need to overthink things. Sports drinks can have high amounts of sugar in them, so why not just stick to the basics with water? Along with eating like a champion, drinking the right fluids can have an effect on your recovery and performance. It ultimately comes down to staying hydrated, as staying hydrated helps your body regulate its temperature, transport nutrients and oxygen and carry away waste products (6). Being dehydrated can severely affect your recovery as well as your performance, so it’s just as important to obtain enough fluids during your workout, as it is post-workout and throughout the rest of the day.
However, if you do enjoy something sweet, coconut water is a great natural substitute and also extremely rich in in minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium (7). A great way of ensuring you are sipping on enough fluids throughout the day is to keep a bottle by your side at all times. If you are training hard, you’re going to need to rehydrate hard! And when training to such intensity, it’s probably difficult to drink too much.
The beauty about nutrition is that it is ultimately in your own hands. From food to drink, you control what goes inside your body. Failure to adhere to correct nutritional guidelines can see your performance suffer. However, taking this seriously can only elevate your levels of athleticism. So, be smart with your nutrition and keep that muscle soreness at bay.