The link between nutrition and recovery

by Alec Graves on Sunday 15 October 2023

4 min read

Recovery is the unsung hero of fitness – it doesn’t get anywhere near the amount of attention it deserves from gym-goers. We all know sleeping enough and eating well is good for us, but it’s wild what simple changes to the way you approach recovery can do for your progress in the gym.

Nutrition is the key, and just a few simple tweaks to the way you think about your fuel and replenish cycle will see you smashing your goals in no time. Get the low down on eating and drinking right for recovery.

What is recovery after a workout?

Recovery is the process of restoring the body to ‘homeostasis’. It’s a process that typically lasts 24-to-48 hours after your workout, and it’s where you’ll see the bulk of your muscular ‘adaptations’, such as growth and strength gains.

Think of it as the ‘rebuild’ phase after the stressors you experience in resistance training. Beyond just rest, your body requires nutrition and rehydration to fuel optimal repairs and bring your body back to its new baseline.

Optimising your recovery with nutrition


Recovery and muscular adaptation require fuel. What you eat will significantly impact everything about your recovery – from the time it takes to get back to baseline, through to the long-term benefits you reap from your fitness regimen.

But what do you need to eat? Let’s take a look.

Protein

Resistance training workouts create small tears in your muscle tissue. Proteins are the building blocks your body uses to repair these tears and create a stronger muscle for your next session.

Carbohydrates

Your muscles naturally store carbohydrates in the form of glycogen, which is the fuel your muscles run on during shorter, higher-intensity workouts. Consuming carbohydrates gives you energy to burn and can help you replenish your muscles afterward.

Fats

Fats are essential in any healthy diet, and they’re another important building block in your recovery. Fats like Omega-3 have been observed to help build explosive power, while also being important to healthy hormone regulation.

Micro-nutrients

Micro-nutrients are all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function properly. Particular micro-nutrients such as magnesium are essential to the healthy function of your muscles and nervous system.

Timing your nutrition for optimal recovery


The easiest way to think about optimising your nutrition for recovery is to break it down into three key phases:

1. Before you workout

In this phase, focus on ensuring your body has what it needs to perform well. That means drinking enough water (with a healthy dose of salt for proper hydration), and getting quick-burning carbohydrates into your system.

The trick is to do it all with enough time to let your stomach settle. Simple carbs can be taken in quickly, but you don’t want to play catch-up on your hydration, as it’s a slow process that can’t be rushed (and can cause ‘stitches’ during workouts if you do).

2. Immediately after you workout

The hour or so after your workout is the ‘anabolic window’. This is a period where your body is primed for ‘protein synthesis’ – where your body converts sources of protein into useful building blocks.

Plenty of gym-goers opt for a whey or casein protein shake after their workouts as a quick way to get protein into their body. Check out our blog about choosing the right protein powder for guidance.

3. From 24-48 hours after you workout

A balanced diet that covers all your nutritional needs is an essential for ongoing success in the gym. Because it typically gets ignored, we recommend paying extra attention to how you start your day, as a healthy meal in the morning is the best way to get a good mix of nutrients in before any nagging cravings get in the way. Check out these 5 high-protein breakfasts for inspiration!

Other factors in post-workout recovery


If you lift weights regularly, you’ll likely know the post-workout soreness of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). This is normal – and a cool way to remind yourself you’ve done good work in the gym. But it’s not a cause of muscle growth.

Being sore more than 48 hours after a moderate workout is a sign you may be getting some part of the recovery equation wrong. Nutrition is the most common, but other important factors are sleep and rest between workouts.

Sleep

Sleep is essential. If you’re not getting enough, then not only will you struggle to get through your workouts, but you may also open yourself up to all kinds of health problems. If you aren’t sleeping well, you might just need to focus on relaxing before bed and settling into a regular night-time routine.

Over-training

Working out again too soon can lead to further tissue breakdown instead of growth. This is a big part of the reason bodybuilders opt for isolation training and cycle through workouts that target different muscle groups. If you’re doing full-body workouts, be sure to leave at least 48 hours between sessions in the gym.

Smash your fitness goals with Virgin Active

Eating right and staying hydrated through all stages of your recovery is a great way to ensure you’re getting the maximum benefits out of your workouts. But if you’re looking for support, our experienced Personal Trainers at Virgin Active are here to help.

Don’t hesitate to reach out for expert guidance on nutrition, working out and smashing your fitness goals. Take the next step today with Virgin Active.

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