The 3 R’s of recovery nutrition

Oct 26, 2020

A healthy workout plan includes a good recovery plan, and every good recovery plan should include good recovery nutrition. Recovery nutrition is the branch of nutrition that deals with the body’s nutrient needs after physical exertion. Its main aim being to replenish energy stores, restore and rebuild what was lost and broken down in order to achieve the recovery goals.

Poor recovery nutrition has the potential of being very detrimental to our training goals, and even health. When we fail to replenish our energy and nutrient stores after exercise, we do not allow our body to repair damaged tissue effectively and we leave it rummaging for alternate energy sources, leaving it vulnerable.

This may in turn result in:

  • Decreased athletic or sporting performance.
  • Poor adaptation, therefore decreased gains from exercise.
  • Fatigue.
  • Poor focus and concentration, which also increase our risk of injury.
  • Increased risk for injuries such as stress fractures, tendinitis and muscle strains.
  • Decreased muscle mass, due to muscle break down or inadequate repair.

The 3 Rs of recovery nutrition

The 3 R’s of Recovery Nutrition

In recovery nutrition we talk about the 3 R’s of recovery: Refuel, Repair (or Rebuild) and Rehydrate. As we look at each of these, it is important to note that we should look at food quality and correct food choices and not only the food groups.


This step of recovery is to refuel the glycogen energy stores of the body. Our muscles and brain use carbohydrates (glycogen) as its main energy source, so it is very important to refuel our bodies by supplying its carbohydrate needs after expending so much energy. This step of recovery is said to be at its best during the first hour post exercise, this being the best time to consume carbohydrates, but continues for about 24 hours.


This step involves recovering the parts of muscle and tissue that were damaged and broken down during exercise. During every kind of exercise there is a breakdown of muscle that occurs which is normal. The breaking down and rebuilding that happens is what actually assists in adaptation, allowing us to become stronger and better. Dietary protein is key to ensure we have enough building blocks for the tissue repair in recovery as well as helping the immune system in this process.


Water and electrolytes are essential in many metabolic processes, from blood pressure regulation, waste elimination to temperature control. It is important to monitor hydration after excessive sweating, especially in very hot weather conditions. Rehydration is best done soon after exercise session. One indication of our hydration status is the colour of our urine.

Our bodies’ recovery needs post exertion in exercise varies according to body composition, exercise type, duration, the goals of the exercise, general physical and health condition, as well as personal preferences. For a better break down and understanding of recovery nutrition for your personal circumstances, there is great benefit in seeing a dietitian. They can assist you with a plan suited to your needs and lifestyle, ensuring you achieve your goal in the healthiest and safest manner.

Chantal Pretto

Chantal Pretto from Pretto Physiotherapy specialises in sports and orthopaedics. They take a complete biomechanical approach to identify the underlying causes of the problem, rather than just treating the symptoms. They specialise in working with runners, as well as other sportspeople. Read more here.

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