Recovery nutrition – What you need to know

May 21, 2020

Running drinking smoothie for recovery

The importance of recovery nutrition is multifaceted and comes down to an individual’s goals. A few points to consider when looking at recovery nutrition include training intensity and duration, sporting and physique goals and please do not forget the impact that training has on your health. Proper recovery will assist in lowering inflammation, replenish glycogen stores, and allow for the correct adaptation to training. A few signs that you are not recovering correctly include; fatigue, increased muscle stiffness and soreness, injury, decreased performance at your next training session and a decrease in gains or adaption to training.

Recovery nutrition allows for supporting the immune system, enhancing adaptation to training, refuelling and promotion of muscle repair and growth. You therefore need to include the correct combination of fluids, carbohydrates, and proteins. Evidence suggest that this should happen within the first 30 to 90 minutes of completing your activity. Kick starting the recovery process by refuelling as soon as possible becomes more important at a higher training load or intensity and when you are training again within an 8-hour time frame. With 1-2 days’ rest between exercise session, refuelling immediately is less important as you are allowing for more time to adapt and replenish stores during the next 12-24-hour period.

A combination of proteins and carbohydrates are required in a ratio of 1:4 or 1:3 depending on the type of exercise or sport as well as the size of the athlete. Glucose is the body’s primary fuel source and stored glycogen becomes depleted after 90 minutes of exercise, depending again on intensity. Replenishing energy or glycogen stores is done by adding carbohydrate to recovery nutrition. This also allows for protein sparing, preventing muscle breakdown. It has been suggested that athletes should aim to consume 20g of good quality protein as part of their recovery protocol. Implementing this would mean that we should aim to consume 60-80g of carbohydrate to achieve the 1:3/4 ratio. Again, this needs to be personalised and is where personal goals, as well as age, weight, gender, and training load must be considered. It is by no means a one size fits all approach.

Replacing the fluid and electrolyte loss during exercise must not be forgotten either. In warmer or more windy conditions, you may experience a higher sweat rate and need to add a little more than you would on cooler days or when doing a lighter session. I encourage consuming water according to thirst throughout the day and always more around exercise. Water loss can be measured by weighing yourself before and after a session and replacing what was lost with fluid. For example, if you are 1kg lighter after your exercise session, you should replace this by drinking 1L of fluid.

So, what should we eat and when? Everyone differs in food preference and appetite following exercise. There are a number of different ways to meet your recovery needs with either food or fluid or a combination of the two. There is no “best” option to consume but, more importantly, emphasis should be placed on the timing and combination of your fluid and electrolyte intake, quality and amount of carbohydrate and lean protein sources. Options are plentiful but need to be available and you therefore need to have a plan of action in mind.  Here are a few recovery nutrition examples:

  • Oat and banana flapjacks  *My personal favourite go-to meal – see recipe below
  • Eggs on toast with a piece of fruit
  • Muesli and yoghurt with fruit salad
  • Chicken or tuna rolls or warps
  • Pasta with a lean bolognaise sauce
  • Chicken kebab with a cob of corn and a baked potato
  • Chocolate milk
  • Sports nutrition recovery shakes/drinks

Recipe: Oat and banana flapjacks

Makes 2-4 flapjacks depending on size

*Recipe can be doubled


  • 1 Egg
  • 1 Large banana
  • 4 Tbs of raw oats
  • ½ tsp of baking powder
  • Spray & cook
  • Optional extras:
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon/cocoa to change the flavour of your flapjack
  • 1 serving of your favourite protein powder

To Serve:

  • Plain yoghurt
  • Fresh or Frozen Berries
  • Nut butter drizzle


  1. Place the egg, banana, oats and baking powder into a blender and blitz until smooth.
  2. Add in your cinnamon/cocoa/protein powder if desired.
  3. Place a non-stick pan onto a medium heat. Spray with a non-stick spray.
  4. Pour in the flapjack mixture. Turning the flapjack to brown evenly on both sides.
  5. Place your peanut butter or nut butter of choice into a small bowl and top with boiling water (1:4 ratio of peanut butter to boiling water) and stir or whisk to combine.
  6. To serve, top the flap jacks with plain yoghurt, berries or fresh fruit of your choice and drizzle with the peanut butter/nut butter drizzle.

Jenna Bowes

Jenna is a registered dietitian with a private practice in Bryanston, Johannesburg. She is highly qualified with BSc degrees in Dietetics, Sports Science and Psychology. Jenna is also a keen sportswoman and has competed at the 70.3 World Iron Man Championships. Read more about Jenna Bowes here

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