Recovery Food – What to eat and when to eat it

Posted on July 22, 2021 by

The quality of recovery after training will determine how good your adaptation and gains are, further to this it will have an impact on how well you might perform or get through the next training session.

Poor recovery can mean arriving at competition or the next training session with depleted energy levels, sore, tired, fatigued, and with poor focus, meaning you may be unable to perform at your best. Recovery happens over a whole day following training not just directly post training. Timing and balanced meals are two key strategies to plan and apply for an effective recovery.


What should I eat for recovery?

The body needs carbohydrate to replenish stores and to assist with muscle repair and recovery. The body also needs protein for muscle growth and to repair damaged muscle to limit muscle soreness.

It also need some good fats and nutrients to help it all come together effectively.

To start the recovery process, you need a protein and carbohydrate food source in a post training/competition meals as soon as you can after finishing to start adaptation and replenishing stores.

  • Carbohydrate approx. 1 – 1.2 g per kilogram of body weight
  • Protein approx. 0.4g/kg, ie. 50kg athlete = 20g protein, 75g athlete = 30g
  • Low in fat at this time as fat slows absorption and may delay delivery of nutrients and fuel to the muscle

8 food choice examples

Here are nine examples of carbohydrate + protein snacks:

1. High-protein yoghurt tub (200g) and a banana 

2. Palm-sized serving of grilled meat and cinnamon-roasted sweet potato with steamed broccoli 

3. 400mL flavoured milk 

4. Ham (50g), cheese (2 slices) and tomato toasted sandwich 

5. 220g tin baked beans, slice of sourdough, boiled egg and a handful of grated cheese 

6. 0.5 cup traditional oats,  300mL milk, fresh berries and cinnamon 

7. Smoothie with milk, fruit, yoghurt and honey 

8. 95g tin tuna and 3 tbsp cottage cheese on toast or rice cakes  

Top up carbs with fruit, oat based muesli bars, crackers or bread/sandwiches or sports drinks. The amount of carbohydrate and protein will vary depending on the amount and intensity of training and physical status goals.

When should I eat for recovery?

20-30 min following activity or as soon as possible, is the most crucial time to replenish protein and carbohydrate to aid muscle recovery. Leaving it longer than this can delay the recovery process, promote further muscle breakdown and slow the body’s ability to build and repair muscle and adequately accumulate fuel stores for the next training session.

When carbohydrate stores are depleted they can take around 20 hours to be replenished, so refuelling will not happen in one meal alone. Continuous repair needs continuous fuel, rather than one large meal, so fuel is ultilised effectively. A snack, as outlined, in the 30min following training can start the recovery process and then be followed up with a healthy balanced meal 1-2 hours later until regular meal patterns are resumed.

If you don’t think you can stomach food this soon after training, try liquids, a smaller amount to build up tolerance or plain foods that are easier to eat such yoghurt tubes, flavoured milk poppers, sports drinks, yoghurt or cheese sandwich as balanced choices to get the recovery process started then continue with another balanced and more complex meal choice at your next meal.

Another protein and carbohydrate meal is just as essential two hours after training has finished to continue the recovery process.


Planning ahead, being organised and preparing and packing food to have with you over the course of the day or competition, including travel, is really important so good food choices are available when the body needs it. If you wait to find, buy or make food its all delaying the recovery process, even if its the ideal recovery food, if it’s too late, it’s not going to give the best results for recovery.

Importance of hydration for recovery

Water, sports drinks and even low fat milk are the best choices for rehydration directly after activity as juice and soft drink can be too sweet or acidic, this can slow the absorption of fluid which slows down rehydration and can delay recovery. Read more on the importance of hydration…

If large amounts of fluid, sodium and electrolytes are lost during activity it can lead to dehydration which has an impact on performance and concentration and can make you feel dizzy, tired and fatigued, then the more dehydrated you are, the less you will feel like drinking.

Drink fluids regularly over the day and use urine colour as a guide; lighter/clear = good hydration; dark yellow = need more fluid.


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