Recover better with good food?

27. November 2018

The scientific community agrees that consuming nutrients straight after an athletic performance has a major impact on the regeneration time. The first question that comes up, however, is whether there is actually anything to regenerate. If you complete a one-hour continuous run or two-hour bike trip two or three times a week, then you don’t need to worry about regeneration as long as you have a healthy and balanced basic diet. 

The body particularly needs to regenerate when it is frequently subjected to extremely intensive and/or long periods of exertion. When this is the case, there are nutritional measures that make total sense. The rule of thumb is to replace the lost energy as quickly as possible, i.e. to start the regeneration process immediately after the exertion. 

In the case of long endurance training sessions, the carbohydrate reserves in particular need to be replenished quickly, however, an adequate intake of protein is also advisable. Both can be replenished either with solid food in the form of sandwiches, bars, Biberli (honey and marzipan biscuit), muesli, and similar foods combined with sports and other sweet drinks or a ready-made regeneration shake, if you want to consume the energy as a fluid. 

Alcohol is a regeneration killer

While drinking a popular beer after your sport may taste great, it makes little sense when it comes to nutrition as it jeopardises the regenerative effort. Alcohol promotes diuresis via the intestines, among other things, and is therefore counterproductive if you need to offset larger fluid deficits. 

For active people who do sport on a regular basis, a healthy and varied basic diet is important - and usually also sufficient to remain able-bodied. The body’s priorities can change at short notice just before, during, and after a competition or a very intensive training unit. In the case of endurance sports, the long and strenuous training units primarily deplete the muscles’ carbohydrate and sugar reserves, so their replenishment is given the highest priority. 

The muscle cells can absorb a lot of sugar in the first one to two hours, but the capacity drops sharply later on. If there is little time available, such as when exerting yourself over several days, competing in a tournament, or doing late-night training, then optimum use should be made of this early phase. Proteins are also important for regeneration. After a physical exertion, proteins supply the body with nutrients for the adaptation processes and for repairing the damaged structures. And it is also important to consume proteins immediately after the exertion. After the regeneration phase, however, the carbohydrate content as well as protein intake can be somewhat reduced again.




Liquid or solid?

It basically doesn’t make a difference whether you top up your energy with solid or liquid food after a sports event. Liquid food is usually easier to tolerate immediately after a tough exertion. What’s more, many athletes aren’t very hungry at this point in time and would rather have a drink. The training circumstances can also play a role as to which food variants are appropriate. 

Following a training unit in the evening after work, the time frame between the end of training and going to sleep can be rather short. In such cases, athletes need to decide whether they should eat a large meal at this late hour when it runs the risk of affecting their sleep. Or whether they would prefer to top up their energy with snacks, bars or concentrated ready-made drinks. 

Due to time constraints and comfort reasons, specially produced regeneration products have established themselves on a broad front in recent years. They either come ready-made as a drink or as a powder to mix (usually with water). As regards content, they differ from the conventional sports drinks in terms of their increased protein content, taste, and frequent enrichment of minerals and vitamins. 

The protein to carbohydrate ratio is crucial

The protein to carbohydrate ratio of a concentrate is particularly decisive when it comes to its area of application. The higher the energy requirement during the sport, preferably the higher the percentage of carbohydrates. Many regeneration drinks have a protein to carbohydrate ratio of about 1:3 to 1:5, enabling an optimally high amount of carbohydrates and protein to be ingested. 

After a strength or power jump training unit or fast interval training, the total amount of energy required is lower, whereas the amount of protein required remains the same. Regeneration products with a higher protein content - for example, a ratio of 1:1 - can be used here. A relatively small amount of powder still contains an optimal amount of protein, but less - and in this case superfluous - carbohydrates. Regeneration shake mixtures usually contain several animal protein sources that are absorbed at different rates, especially milk proteins such as whey protein, which is absorbed very quickly. Some suppliers also offer products with vegetable protein sources (e.g. soya-based). 




No one remedy suits all

As is so often the case: there is no one remedy suits all when it comes to regeneration. Amateur athletes may sometimes also find themselves in the situation of a professional athlete where, due to an exhaustive bike tour, training camp, or intensive strength training phases, for example, they require a higher amount of carbohydrates and protein at short notice. 

Whether you want to offset the deficit afterwards by consuming natural food, solids, liquids, or special ready-made mixtures is a question of the amount of energy required, the available recovery time until the next exertion, the taste, tolerability - and finally, it is also probably a matter of convenience and your personal philosophy of life.

Summed up for use in practice:

  • For active people who do sport on a regular basis, a healthy and varied basic diet is important to remain able-bodied.
  • For an optimal recovery, carbohydrates and proteins should be eaten in the first two hours after a sports activity.
  • The higher the energy requirement during the sport, preferably the higher the percentage of carbohydrates.
  • The deficit can be offset with natural food, solids, liquids, or special ready-to-use mixtures.