A big event can take a lot out of you. Mentally and physically grueling, long endurance events test you to the limit. Being physically fit and mentally ready are essential but what can you do to help your body recover in the hours and days after you’ve given it all you’ve got?
Along with a serious training plan, most people have a nutrition plan worked down to the last gram of carbohydrate for the event day. Do you let it all go the moment you cross the finish line? Heck no. Although the only thing you want to do when you finish is sit down and switch off, do try to eat something soon after you’ve done. A long endurance event means you have used your body hard. You will have lots of micro-tears in your muscles that need protein, a big calorie deficit that needs carbs and a drop in essential electrolytes and water that definitely need replacing. You may have crossed the finish line but you are not done for a few hours yet.
Start with hydration. At this point a good sports drink will give you much need water as well as help to rebalance your electrolytes and start to refuel your muscles. You can buy commercial sports drinks or make your own using the recipes below. Aim to get 1 litre in over the next hour. This will start to help you recover and stop you from feeling completely exhausted tomorrow. But keep sipping water and other isotonic drinks throughout the rest of the day – and stay away from the alcohol. It just dehydrates you and slows your recovery.
Take a look
A great way to check if you are hydrated is to check your pee. It should be light coloured to clear. If it is darker then you need more water. Balance your water with homemade or bought sports drinks as these will help replace electrolytes. You will have lost a lot of electrolytes through your sweat and it is just as important to replace these as it is to replace water. Do both.
Muscles need protein for recovery along with good hydration and carbs. Make sure you have a protein snack soon after finishing – within 30-120 minutes. You don’t need a huge amount. A tin of tuna, a boiled egg, a large yoghurt, a big handful of nuts will get you started. Then follow with a good protein-rich meal later on.
Your muscles run on carbs and you will have used up most, if not all, of what was there. Replacing this helps muscles to recover – they will need energy to repair tears and injuries so fuel up! Sports drinks will help you start replacing your carbs but do add a carb snack 30-120 minutes after finishing. You can have this along with your protein so good snacks to go for are:
- Tuna and wholegrain crackers
- Yoghurt and Banana
- Peanut butter sandwich
- Muesli bar with nuts.
Have a great meal
Once you’ve started to feel human again, get ready for a good dinner. You may be surprised that you are not starving once you finish but it is normal to find your appetite is actually a little supressed after a long endurance event. This can take a day or so to come back. But even if you don’t feel like eating a lot, do plan a dinner that has plenty of carbs and protein. For once, you can let the vegetables slide… Fish is a great option – especially salmon or tuna as they are high in B vitamins and Vitamin D as well as protein – and these are also needed to help release energy from food and to maintain healthy muscle. Perfect for recovery. Aim to have plenty of carbs too – pasta, rice, potatoes or other grains are all brilliant.
Be prepared to snack regularly over the next few hours and the following day. Small high protein snacks along with boosts of carbs will get you back on the road to recovery and, more importantly, back on the road.
Four Key Messages
- Hydration is the important first step for recovery. Choose a sports drink that has electrolytes and some carbs and then follow with water.
- Help muscles recover and repair by adding a protein snack 30-120 minutes after finishing. A pot of tuna, a boiled egg, fruit yoghurt
- Snack on carbs 30-120 minutes after finishing to help refuel muscle and promote recovery. Team your carbs with protein for best effect – tuna and crackers, banana and yoghurt; muesli bar and nuts.
- Have a good meal around 2 hours after finishing and include protein and carbs. Try salmon with penne; spaghetti Bolognese; chicken or tuna stir fry with noodles or chickpea curry with rice
Consultant Nutritionist - MSc., BSc., MINDI
Sarah has a degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from Trinity College and a Masters in European Food Regulation.
She runs a food and nutrition consultancy giving one-to-one advice on nutrition and diet as well as working with some of Ireland's leading food companies.