How to pre-fuel and re-fuel to optimise recovery and repair from exercise and injuries
Whether you’re a gym-goer, runner or cyclist or athlete training and competing, you’re probably intimately acquainted with dietary practices that optimise performance. But fewer of us pay such attention to nutrition practices to optimise recovery – both from routine training or comp and from injury incurred during either. It’s an odd oversight, since post-training and post-match nutrition can fast-track recovery from fatigue and DOMS and mean less down time between sessions as well as reducing injury risk. For those who are injured (who hasn’t felt the frustrated urgency of wishing away an injury?), it can mean an earlier return to sports. Our sports division chiropractors and physiotherapists attest that athletes and fitness enthusiasts who integrate manual therapies and exercise prescription with strategic nutrition components and timing tend to recover faster and more fully than those who don’t. It makes sense, since both regular tissue micro-damage (e.g. muscle micro tears from a hard lifting session) and injury damage require delivery of specific combinations of nutrients and adequate kilojoules to enable growth and repair.
We’ve asked our multidisciplinary sports division practitioners and dietitians for DIY diet tips and tricks you can action today to promote recovery (in turn aiding performance), reduce injury risk and optimise healing, repair and recovery from injury.
Fuel for optimal performance and injury prevention
When it comes to fitness and sports nutrition to reduce injury risk, optimise performance and facilitate repair and recovery, meals are often categorised as ‘pre-fuelling’ and ‘refuelling’. Pre-fuelling can help to prepare muscles for exertion and prime them for optimal performance while re-fuelling aids repair and recovery. While elite athletes and those participating in endurance events may include strategic carbohydrate intake in days leading up to an event and top-ups during an event (and a consistently balanced diet is important for any fitness enthusiast) most of us really only need to focus intricately on the fuel we consume in the hours before and after exercise. It’s important to note that pre-fuel and re-fuel needs will vary based on factors including exercise type, duration and intensity and body weight and body mass composition, but here are some general guidelines.
The tip: Eat up
While many fitness enthusiasts are wary of consuming too many kilojoules for fear of fat gain or inhibiting fat loss in the case of body composition goals, eating too little before exercise can increase injury risk. When your body can’t access the energy it needs to perform at a certain level, it may be forced into catabolism, which means your body starts breaking down its own tissue (muscle) as a source of energy. Essentially, it feeds on itself. In such cases, the depleted body doesn’t have access to the energy it needs to repair tissue damage, in turn compromising recovery. The tricky thing is, you don’t see or feel it. Many people who undereat assume their recovery is complete and return to exercise in a compromised state of repair, inadvertently attracting a higher risk of injury.
Monitor your workout performance, your body weight and your body composition. If your performance declines, it’s possibly a sign you’re not eating enough. If weight declines and body fat percentage remains the same, it may be a sign that you’ve entered a catabolic state and are losing muscle due to inadequate fuel supply.
The tip: Carb cram
As well as obtaining enough kilojoules to fuel your chosen sport or exercise, it’s important to reiterate the importance of carbohydrate as a component of your pre-workout snack or meal. Ingestion of carbohydrate three to four hours before exercise increases liver and muscle glycogen and enhances subsequent endurance exercise performance. A common sign of depleted glycogen is early fatigue and/or compromised form, which can increase injury risk.
Unless you’re an endurance athlete anticipating an event of 90 minutes or more, you probably don’t need to start your carbing days ahead. However, including ‘good carbs’ (e.g. whole grain bread or crackers) in the hours before a workout can both aid performance and guard against the injury risk increase encountered when glycogen is depleted.
The tip: Embrace fat
Fat has gained a reputation for promoting heart disease and turning into body fat, but the right fats are among an athlete’s best nutritional tools. Healthy dietary fats enable the creation of healthy cell membranes that better resist damage during exercise. Specific fats also help to mitigate inflammatory processes, in turn helping to stop minor injuries from progressing into larger ones. A University of Buffalo study found that female runners who consumed the least fat were most likely to have an injury.
Aim to derive about 30 per cent of your daily kilojoules from fat. Ensure that no more than 10 per cent of total daily kilojoules come from saturated fat and obtain 20 per cent or more from unsaturated fat. Omega-3 essential fats are also highly regarded when it comes to combating inflammation. Aim for 3,000mg daily.
The tip: Calculate calcium
Calcium is crucial for bone health and healthy bones with good density are less susceptible to bone strains and stress fractures.
Aim to obtain 1,000 to 1,300 mg of calcium daily from your diet (that’s about twice what’s estimated to be consumed in an average adult diet). Think three serves of low-fat or fat-free dairy (make sure fat-free options aren’t packed with sugar such as some fruit yoghurts). If you’re unable to meet your calcium needs through diet, speak to your dietitian or GP about a calcium and vitamin D supplement.
The tip: Time your top-up
To promote optimal repair and recovery of muscle and joint tissue, post-exercise meal timing is as important as meal type. Not only can it help you to more effectively meet your fitness goals, it can help to prevent injury at your next session.
Damage that occurs during a workout is repaired most effectively in the two hours following the workout, which means that what you eat during this window can work for or against you. The ideal post-workout meal or snack comprises both protein and carbohydrate, which stimulates muscle protein synthesis and replenishes depleted glycogen stores. In a study involving Marine recruits, those who used a carbohydrate-protein supplement daily after physical training through 54 days of boot camp had 37 per cent fewer muscle and tendon injuries, and less muscle soreness than recruits who used a carbohydrate-only control or a placebo. Simple options include a large glass of low-fat chocolate milk or a turkey or chicken sandwich on wholegrain bread.
NUTRITION FOR INJURY RECOVERY
When you incur a physical injury, there is some type and degree of tissue damage greater than the microdamage expected from a heavy workout or session. While injury first aid protocols and treatments administered by a physiotherapist or chiropractor are critical for setting in motion a correct and optimal repair process (hence facilitating efficient and full recovery and healing and minimising the risk of injury recurrence), they can be helped or hindered by the nutrition available to the body. Simply, certain nutrients are more useful than others when it comes to repairing and rebuilding damaged tissue and growing healthy new tissue. A useful way to consider nutrition following injury is to target three key post-injury stages: Inflammation (marked by pain, redness, heat and swelling, when healing chemicals are attracted to the injured area), proliferation (when damaged tissues are removed and replaced with fresh blood supply and temporary tissue) and remodelling (here, the temporary tissue is replaced with stronger, permanent tissue).
Stage 1: Inflammatory stage
Anti-inflammatory foods may help to curb swelling. While we don’t want to eliminate swelling altogether as some swelling is integral to recovery, controlling its level by boosting your intake of anti-inflammatory foods and reducing or eliminating pro-inflammatory foods may help to ease discomfort.
Boost the anti-inflammatory credentials of your diet by including foods such as
-Extra virgin olive oil, fish oil or flax oil
-Fatty fish (salmon, anchovies or sardines
-Dark chocolate or cocoa
-Berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries or raspberries)
Combine this with minimising or eliminating pro-inflammatory foods such as
-Processed meats high in saturated fat like beef jerky, bacon, canned meat, salami and hot dogs
-Trans fats like vegetable oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil and margarine
-Fried and deep-fried foods
-Sugar-sweetened beverages (soft drink, energy drinks and sports drinks)
-Refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta and white rice)
Stages 2 and 3: Proliferation and Remodelling Stages
The active rebuilding of tissue requires sufficient energy (kilojoules) and adequate amounts of protein, minimally-processed carbohydrate, healthy fats and fruit and veg. (The repair process can increase metabolism or daily energy needs by more than 15 per cent, which means finding a middle ground between your usual rest day intake and your training or workout day intake. If your regular rest day intake is 7,500 kilojoules, this may mean adding around 1,125 kilojoules.)
How to: To cover your nutrient needs, a useful guide for each component within each meal is
- Protein: 2g per kilogram of bodyweight OR 2 palms of protein for men and 1 palm of protein for women
- Fruits and vegetables: 1-2 fists of fruits or veggies
- Fats: 2-thumb sized portions for men, 1 thumb-sized portion for women
- Carbs: 2 golf-ball sized portions for men, 1 golf-ball sized portion for women
This advice is general in nature and may not be applicable to your personal needs. Before commencing a sports nutrition plan, it is advisable to consult an accredited practising dietitian (APD) or sports dietitian.
Max your recovery with mix & match Physio, Chiro, Dietetics *SAVE WITH A SPORTS MEMBERSHIP*
Whether you’re looking to optimise performance and prevent injury, shorten down times between training and workouts or optimise recovery from injury, a combined multidisciplinary plan devised by our practitioners in collaboration can help you to achieve it and maintain it long term. For just $10 per month, billed quarterly, our Sports & Wellness Membership gives you a discount on every single physiotherapy, chiropractic and dietetics appointment and lets you mix and match the services you need to meet your fitness and sports goals. Better news? You’re not locked in. At the end of each three-month period, you can choose to renew or not. What have you got to lose except your injury risk, performance dip or injury layoff?