What we eat and drink after an intense workout or event is
important for how well (and how quickly) we recover. But
recovery nutrition can be confusing for the everyday person.
When and what should we eat? How much protein should it
contain? What about carbohydrates? And can we have fat?
Who better to ask than someone who works with a number of
Australian athletes to help optimise their diet, nutrition,
supplementation and body composition.
“I am a Sydney-based sports dietitian who works with various
male and female athletes including The GWS GIANTS (men’s and
women’s AFL teams), the Cronulla Sharks and the Giants
Netball,” Jessica Spendlove, an accredited practising
dietitian, accredited sports dietitian and nutrition
consultant, told HuffPost Australia.
“I also work with some individual athletes including James
Magnussen and Mikkayla Sheridan, who are both international
Here’s exactly what Spendlove does with the sports teams and
Nutrition — individual meal plans, group
education, ordering all of the food and meals provided at the
club for training and then from the hotels when the teams
travel (basically anything to do with what the athletes are
Hydration — measuring their hydration status
and ensuring the players are hydrated, and that they are
replacing what they need to after training and games.
Supplementation — recommending what
supplements the athletes use (on an individual basis) and then
anything to do with that process from writing the supplements
policy, liaising with the supplements company, ordering the
products and distributing the supplements on a daily basis to
Body composition — measuring the athletes’
skinfolds and circumferences, and then tracking this over time.
The nutrition recommendations I make consider the athletes’
individual performance goals as well as their body composition
simonkr via Getty Images
Recovery nutrition is an important aspect of the athletes’
diet, and it’s something we can all take inspiration from for
our own intense workouts, runs or games.
“Recovery nutrition refers to the meal or snack consumed after
training (or an event) to maximise the training adaptation (be
that to get fitter, faster or stronger) and to replace what was
used,” Spendlove said.
“Consuming an adequate post-training meal or snack is important
for overall energy levels and assists in supporting immune
function. Undereating post-training can lead to overeating at
other times of the day, which may be unfavourable depending on
the client and their goals.”
Timing and quality of recovery nutrition is of utmost
“Depending on the athlete or client, the recovery meal or snack
should be consumed within 30–60 minutes after a training
session and should comprise three key elements: slow release
(low GI) carbohydrates, good quality, fast-digesting protein,
and fluid,” Spendlove told HuffPost Australia.
Slow release carbohydrates include oats, whole grain sourdough,
quinoa, sweet potato, brown rice and bananas. Good quality
protein includes Greek yoghurt, eggs, milk, chicken, turkey,
tuna or protein powder. And fluid is mainly water or milk of
Inadequate recovery nutrition, especially when training
multiple times per day, can result in:
- Reduced performance at the next training session
- Increased fatigue either across the day (at work) or in
the next training session
- Suboptimal adaptation from the training session just
- Increased muscle soreness
“The importance of recovery nutrition depends on the type and
duration of exercise just completed, body composition goals and
For an athlete who trains twice per day, it’s important they
consume a recovery meal or snack within 30 minutes of training
to start that recovery process as soon as possible.
“Failing to do so has been shown to reduce the quality of the
next training session when it is the same day (for example, a
morning and then afternoon session), or in close succession
(training at night, and then early again the next morning).”
So, what does recovery nutrition actually look like on a plate?
Examples of recovery meal and snacks
- Poached eggs with grilled ham off the bone, avocado and two
slices of whole grain or spelt toast
- 200g Greek yoghurt with ½-1 cup of oats, berries and
- Breakfast smoothie — milk of choice, Greek yoghurt, frozen
banana, date, cinnamon, ½ cup of oats
Athlete recovery nutrition isn’t fancy — just real, healthy
- 150–200g salmon with 200g of sweet potato and greens
- 150–200g chicken skewers with one cup of brown rice and a
- Smoothie with milk of choice, Greek yoghurt and fruit
- Greek yoghurt with a piece of fruit and nuts
- Protein shake made on a base of choice (water, coconut
water or milk of choice, depending on goals) with piece of
As you can see, the recovery nutrition looks a lot like regular
meals and snacks. And this is actually ideal.
“For most clients or athletes, their recovery nutrition can be
in the form of a meal or snack,” Spendlove said. “For a client
who trains in the morning, breakfast can often serve as their
recovery meal, such as poached eggs, grilled ham off the bone
and avocado on whole grain sourdough with a milk-based coffee.”
merc67 Greek yoghurt and
protein powder make smoothies a great recovery snack.
For a client training once per day, they may only need to
consume a recovery meal within the first hour. And regardless
of the athlete or type of sport, the recovery meal or snack
will always contain the three key recovery nutrition elements.
“The amount of carbohydrate will change depending on the
athlete, the type of sport or their own body composition
goals,” Spendlove said.
“The amount of protein should always be around 20 grams in that
immediate recovery meal or snack. The athlete should always aim
to replace more than what they lost in a training session.”
For hydration, a general guideline is to replace 120–150
percent of fluid lost in the session or event to ensure they
“This can be done by weighing in and out before and after
training or an event,” Spendlove said. “Depending on the
athlete and the session or event, electrolyte replacement might
also be required. This is generally done by adding additional
salt to food, or consuming fluids with some added
And lastly, there is such thing as ‘overdoing’ recovery
“One thing I speak to a lot of clients about is not
‘clustering’ their intake. For example, if they are having a
recovery meal or snack within 30-60 minutes of finishing
training, they may not need to have a recovery shake (such as a
protein shake) as it is doubling up,” Spendlove said.
“Instead they should redistribute the recovery shake as a snack
across the day. As a general rule, 3-4 hours is a good amount
of time between meals and snacks for active individuals looking
to optimise their distribution of food across the day.”
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