With so much focus on getting race day & training nutrition right, the nutrition required for optimal post-event recovery is often overlooked. So what’s your post race strategy? It’s easy to get caught up in the buzz of completing an event and overlook what your body needs for optimal recovery, so here’s a few basic tips that your body will thank you for. By paying attention to your post-race nutrition, your muscles are likely to recover much quicker. So don’t reach for that finish line beer just yet …
Fuel up within 30 minutes of your race
Even if it’s your last event of the season, prioritise getting your post-race nutrition within the important 30-minute window from the time you finish. Carbohydrate and protein are priorities, as this will help your body to start the important repair & re-build of muscles.
Should I aim for more carbohydrates or protein after my race?
Both are critical for full recovery after training or an event. Carbohydrates are the body's main fuel source, stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. As the body can only store a certain amount of carbohydrate, once depleted through exercise these reserves need to be replaced before your next training session.
- Aim for 1 gram of carbohydrate per 1 kilogram of body weight (approx 0.4 grams per pound of body weight). This should be repeated hourly until you get time for a main meal and eating patterns return to normal.
- Aim for 20g of protein as the magic number that you need to consume within 30 minutes of your event to optimise the recovery process.
You plan your training nutrition, and you plan your race day nutrition. So just take one more step and plan your post-race nutrition. Keep it simple! Plan ahead so you have something easy to grab at the finish line waiting. The following snacks are suggestions that will help you reach your post-race nutrition target:
- Natural yogurt based fruit smoothie or spirulina smoothie
- Sandwich with tuna or salmon, lean meats (ham, beef, chicken), eggs, or low-fat cheese.
- Greek yogurt, granola and mixed berries
- Pasta based meal
It can take time to connect with your support crew or gear bag after a race so a good idea is to finish any lollies or sports drink remaining from the race, as this wastes no time in getting recovery underway. If you haven’t packed a carb/protein picnic in your finish line gear bag, don’t worry! Events often provide a range of food options at the finish village. Generally, to achieve your recovery nutrition goals you will want to be heading towards those offering sushi, pitas, souvalaki or similar food stalls.
Proper hydration is another important area for events lasting longer then an hour and can be easily overlooked (especially with beer on offer). Sports drink with carbohydrates is an ideal choice directly after a race as it will continue to replace lost electrolytes, refuel your muscles with glycogen and rehydrate you. Palatability of your chosen drink should help you to drink more so be sure to use your favourite flavour.
Events around 90-120 minutes may only require around a 500 – 750ml of sports drink after your event, before you move onto the plain water. However, two and even three bottles or more post-race could be required for events lasting upwards of two hours or very intense efforts. The challenge is to read your body and decide what is best for you. For example, if you get a headache an hour after your race, chances are you are still dehydrated. Alternatively, if you breezed through your race and are feeling fresh then water should be adequate. Focus on hydration for the first 4-6 hours post-race.
Is hydration important during cooler months?
Yes! Hydration is still very important and if you’re struggling to warm up in cooler weather with cold drinks then try herbal teas or have some room temperature beverages on hand. For recovery suggestions opt for something warm like Milo, hot chocolate or soup with bread.
Celebrate your achievement!
Finally, remember to refuel before enjoying your well-earned celebrations. Save the post-race toast until after you have recovered. This is vital to your overall recovery and a simple task to tick off if planning a celebratory evening ahead. Keep snacking every 30-60 min after your race until you can get a main meal onboard. If you choose to indulge in alcoholic beverages during your celebrations just remember that alcohol dehydrates the body so add this to the stress the body has already undertaken, and you may just be lining yourself up for a decent hangover. Again, this is where electrolyte sports drink can be really handy for re-hydration (including the morning after) so have some on hand. Be sure to drink plain water in between alcoholic drinks to be kind to your body.