Fueling strategies for performance & recovery

I recently got a question from a reader, asking about a fueling strategies for someone training 2-3 times daily, who isn't interested in weight loss, but in optimal fueling for recovery and performance. Since it is a good question, and also ties in nicely with some of the material I taught my students in the last few weeks, I figured the answer would be a good post. Note: Even if you do not exercise 2-3 times a day, some of the information below is still applicable to you. However, keep in mind that these are general guidelines.

Recovery between training sessions is a challenge for athletes who train more than twice a day. The body needs to adapt to physiological stress so you get better and the key here is to bounce back and be ready for more as fast as possible. For athletes training 2-3 times a day, that means they often only have 2-3 hours between each training session.

Recovery is a complex process. General recovery goals are:

  • Replacing muscle and liver glycogen (carbohydrate) stores (refuel)
  • Replacing fluid and electrolytes (hydrate)
  • Building new muscle protein, red blood cells and other cellular components (build & repair)
  • Allowing the immune system to handle the damage caused by heavy training (protect)

For the purpose of this post, I will focus on goals #1 and #3. Before formulating a recovery strategy, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What am I recovering from? This depends on how much fuel was used during exercise and from what source. Simply put, how hard and/or long was the training session you are recovering from?
  • When is my next training session and how hard will it be?
  • What nutrients will promote recovery & how much do I need?
  • What form should I get those nutrients from? Food, fluid, sports drinks, bars, etc?

Refuel

The amount of carbohydrates you need to consume depends on the training you are recovering from and how fast you need to recover (when your next workout is).

Immediately after training (or at least within the hour) you need to consume 1-1.2g of carbohydrates per kg body weight. This is important because during the first hour after training glycogen synthesis rates are at their highest and this phase is not insulin dependent. This does not mean that you can eat whatever you want during this 1 hour “window”. On the contrary, it means that you need to pay even closer attention to the foods you eat and make smart choices. Time things right and make sure you are well prepared so you can eat real food vs commercial sports foods, cookies, processed foods, etc. Real food is better for you!

This one-hour window for post training carbohydrate intake is most important on days when you have less than 8 hours between training sessions, which is typical when training 2-3 times a day, depending on your individual schedule. On the other hand, if you don’t have another training session that day or if you don't have another training session within 8 hours, don’t worry about eating something right away. Simply follow a normal meal pattern, so you do not “double up” on your recovery nutrition and end up taking more calories/carbohydrates than needed. An example would be an afternoon workout that is done by 5:00pm. Instead of eating a snack right after the workout and then eating dinner 1-1.5 hours later, just eat dinner as early as you can.

On days where there are 3 workouts a day, a pattern of eating easy to digest snacks throughout the day (instead of regular meals) tend to work better because digestion and recovery between sessions are faster and more effective this way. Especially for afternoon runs! Be sure to include protein (see below) with each snack and watch out for the fat and fiber content of your snacks so digestion isn't affected negatively. However, if you only have one workout a day, this snacking pattern might not be a good idea!

For more information about carbohydrate intakes, read this post.

Build & repair

Consuming protein with carbohydrates might increase carbohydrate synthesis post training, as well as repair muscle tissue post training.  Therefore, along side the appropriate amounts of carbohydrates, aim for 10-25g of high quality protein in the first hour after exercise. The actual amount depends on your body size therefore you should aim for 0.25g/kg of protein in addition to 1-1.2g/kg of carbohydrates.

Good quality protein typically equals at least 10g of protein containing all essential amino acids.

Remember that these are general guidelines, so there is a need to allow for individual variability, etc. Have a question? You can ask it in the comments, on twitter or via facebook!

Unfortunately, I don't have a recipe for you to go with this post... I don't want to cause information overload! The pictures below are a bit of a teaser of what's to come!

WObars