Recovery: Part 2—Nutrition

By Damon Leedale-Brown, Sports Scientist & Conditioning Specialist

In the previous issue we introduced the important concept of recovery from training and competition and initially looked at a series of simple physiological strategies that are used by elite athletes and can be applied by any level of player. In this issue we will look at aspects of recovery linked to nutrition and hydration.

Most of us have some understanding of the importance of eating and drinking before training or competition. However, what seems less understood and valued is the critical role that post-exercise nutrition plays in recovery from training and competition stress, and the impact post-nutrition strategies have on our ability to perform consistently well in subsequent sessions.

EAT WELL After a hard training session or match there is a “window of opportunity” within the first 30-60 minutes of recovery when your body is most receptive to replenishing carbohydrate (energy) stores in the form of glycogen in the muscles. You may see many athletes using specific recovery powders and drinks at this time, and the benefit of these are that fluid-based products can often be easier to consume immediately post-training as opposed to solid food.

Eating well after a match can play a valuable role in later performance. One sports nutritionist Leedale-Brown worked with recommends two bananas and a half liter of milk.
Eating well after a match can play a valuable role in later performance. One sports nutritionist Leedale-Brown worked with recommends two bananas and a half liter of milk.

Glycogen is your key energy nutrient for high intensity exercise and some of you may have experienced the sensation of glycogen depletion which, in running, is known as “hitting the wall.” It has been shown in research that combining carbohydrate with protein in the first two hours after training has a more powerful effect on the body’s insulin response (than carbohydrate only), which leads to a higher rate of glycogen recovery and storage in the muscles. A recommended balance is a carbohydrate to protein ratio of approximately 4:1, or four grams of carbohydrate for every gram of protein.

The protein taken in at this time can also play a valuable role as it helps to provide some of the amino acids needed to rebuild muscle tissues that are damaged as a result of intense exercise. In addition, it has been shown that certain amino acids in protein can stimulate the immune system, which can help to provide better protection from colds and infections. One sports nutritionist I worked with simply recommended two bananas and a half liter of milk as an excellent recovery meal!

DRINK WELL Squash is an intense sport placing high demands upon the body and can result in high levels of fluid and electrolyte losses from the body. Individual sweat rates will vary and some of us are definitely heavier sweaters than others! One English professional player from a few years ago was known to have to change shoes during matches because they would get so saturated with sweat! Another World ranked player I worked with during an event in Malaysia lost over 4kg in body weight (or the equivalent of four liters of fluid) in only 80 minutes of play.

During my work with England Squash we would assess fluid loss during major championships by weighing players before and after matches, and also noting the amount of fluid a player had consumed during the match. We found average sweat rates in the male players of around 2-2.5 liters/hour and in the female players around 1.5 liters/hour.

The amount of fluid you lose in a match or training session cannot be replenished by drinking the same amount in recovery; our bodies are simply not that efficient. For every liter of fluid consumed, our bodies will only retain around 40-60% which is why it is also crucial that we do not start a match or training session poorly hydrated.

Generally speaking the best choice of fluid for hydration is still water. Without a doubt this is definitely far superior to some of the pre-made so called “sports drinks” that I have seen many junior and adult players use during tournaments in the US—these are typically nothing more than sugar (High Fructose Corn Syrup) and chemicals! Good quality sports drinks typically come in a powdered form, have a higher percentage of complex carbohydrates (not sugars), and an appropriate balance of electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and magnesium. They can play a role in helping replace electrolytes lost in sweat during an extended training session or match, and begin the process of replenishing carbohydrate stores in the period before an athlete is ready to consume solid food.

Hopefully this article has given you insight into the importance of nutrition and hydration in recovery, and applying some simple nutritional recovery strategies can be a key to unlocking your best training and competition performances, and more importantly repeating them time and time again.