Planning your weekly eating to enhance training and recovery

This weeks guest blog in Nutrition Corner comes from The Endurance Coach. It talks about ways of enhancing your training and recovery after a hard training session in order to get the best out of your weekly training. In order to help you choose the best types of foods when your out doing your weekly shop, there is a table listing the best sources of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

The basic principles of healthy eating

As an endurance athlete, it is critical that you optimize your diets to keep you healthy, injury free and performing at your best. The foods that you eat have a huge impact upon your ability to train on a daily basis, recover between sessions and compete successfully. An endurance training programme should be supported by a high quality diet if you hope to achieve your long term goals.

Getting the right balance

Many endurance athletes overestimate the daily carbohydrate intake required and eat predominantly carbohydrate foods. This excessive focus on carbohydrate intake can result in a detrimental lack of proteins and fats. Coupled with this, over emphasis upon carbohydrate intake can also affect your metabolism and reduce the ability to utilize fat as a fuel source.

Our recommendation is that your total daily calorie requirements are supplied, based upon the following basis:

Good quality carbohydrates: 40% total calories
Proteins: 30% total calories
Good quality fats: 30% total calories

No such thing as a bad carbohydrate, just depends upon when it’s eaten..

Carbohydrates are used for energy within the body and are generally categorized as good and bad. The bad versions may be referred to as refined, processed or simple carbohydrates and the good ones more commonly referred to as complex. This is a little misleading as not all complex carbohydrates are good and not all simple carbohydrates are bad.

Essentially, the most important thing is how quickly the carbohydrate enters the blood stream. The good carbohydrates enter more slowly and ‘drip feed’ us with energy whilst the bad one’s enter quickly and lead to high blood sugar levels. The glycemic index rates foods from 1 (slowest) to 100 (quickest) and is one of the best guides for assessing good and bad forms of carbohydrates.

It is important to get most of your daily carbohydrate intake from the good varieties of carbohydrate such as wholegrain foods, fruits and vegetables. Refined or processed carbohydrates should not form part of your general balanced diet.  However, there are times during training training and racing when bad carbohydrates are most useful. If you are part way through a long training session or race and your carbohydrate levels are low, you need foods which will provide you with an instant energy hit. We’ll discuss more of this when we reach the topic of training and race day nutrition, but for now, they are off the daily menu. See table 1 for examples of good and bad carbohydrates.


Good quality proteins should be consumed with every meal and snack. When introducing strength training or increasing training volume/intensity, this should be accompanied by an increase in protein intake. They are vital for recovery so should be taken following each training session. See table 2 for examples of good quality proteins.


Fats are essential to health and performance. Their roles include controlling blood glucose levels, assisting immunity and reducing inflammation (more on inflammation later). Good fats should be included on a daily basis.  See table 2 for examples of good quality fats.

Table 1

Good carbohydrates: Bad carbohydrates:
Fruit n fibre
Porridge oats
Bulgar wheat
Brown/wild/basmati rice
Wholemeal pasta
Wholegrain bread
Sweet potato
Sports drinks
Sports gels
Cereal bars
Jelly sweets
Jaffa cakes/figrolls
Sugar cereals
White bread or rolls
White rice, pasta and noodles
General potatoes, boiled/mashed/new/baked
Rice cakes

Table 2

Good proteins: Good fats:
Lean beef and lamb
White fish
Tinned tuna/salmon
Oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, fresh tuna)
Plain yoghurts
Oily fish (other e.g. mackerel, sardines, herring, trout, pilchards) tinned varieties are ok.
Olive oil/nut oils
Nuts and seeds

Enhancing your recovery

Effective recovery is arguably the most important component to your training but often the most neglected and least planned. Recovery is the period of time where you reap the benefits of your training and the adaptations occur. How you choose to recover can have a profound effect upon:

1. How well you can train in your next session

2. Your ongoing risk of injury

3. Your risk of picking up opportunistic infections

4. Your ability to reach your true potential

Endurance training places a great deal of stress upon the body. The potentially negative responses to this stress include:

1. Muscle and tissue damage (micro tears in muscle and tendons, leading to inflammation)

2. Carbohydrate depletion in the exercising muscles (low carbohydrate stores)

3. Dehydration via sweating and respiration, leading to a reduction in blood plasma volume (the fluid component of blood)

4. Suppression of the immune system

Following exercise your body is in a state of ‘catabolism’ (breakdown of muscles and tissue) due to the stress caused by training. By implementing a nutritional strategy that not only provides the correct nutrients but also ensures they are eaten at the appropriate times, you can enhance the process of ‘anabolism’ (repairing and building up of muscles and tissue), thereby maximizing training adaptations and speeding up the recovery process.

There is a ‘golden window of opportunity’ immediately after training when your body is more adept to re-fuelling and recovering. Whilst the window exists for a short time only, recovery takes place for several hours afterwards. Recovery should be treated as the full time between training sessions, whether this is 8, 24 or 72 hours.

Carbohydrate intake for recovery

Glycogen synthesis (carbohydrate storage in muscles and liver) is a fairly slow process and it can take up to 24 hours to fully replenish stores after hard training. When carbohydrate is consumed immediately after training the rate of uptake into the muscles is faster (golden window mentioned earlier). There is greater emphasis on making the most of this window when recovery time is short between sessions (e.g. twice a day training).

If an athlete is glycogen-depleted (low carbohydrate stores) after exercise, they should consume a carbohydrate intake of 0.6 –1.0 g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight per hour during the first 30 minutes. They should then repeat this every hour until the next meal, which should contain good quality carbohydrates.

Example: A 62kg athlete would therefore consume between 37.2 (62×0.6) and 62 (62×1) grams of carbohydrate within the first 30 minutes and repeated every 2 hours for 4-6 hours.

A single sports/energy bar will generally contain 50-60g of carbohydrate and a single gel contains 15-20g of carbohydrate (check the side of the packet!).

The best type of carbohydrate to consume immediately post training is high glycaemic index carbohydrate, which enters the body at a fast rate e.g. sports drinks and energy bars

Protein intake for recovery

Consuming protein immediately after training will help to promote muscle repair and anabolism but the source of protein consumed after training is important. Research has shown that ‘whey protein’ is the most effective (which is a fast absorbing high quality protein providing all the essential amino acids and branch chain amino acids required for muscle building and repair). Whey protein can be sourced from consuming dairy products such as milk and yoghurts, recovery drinks, protein bars and whey protein powders.

Combining carbohydrate and protein for recovery purposes

A well-practiced approach is to consume a recovery snack containing carbohydrate and protein in a 3:1 ratio within 30 minutes of finishing your workout. In simple terms, for every 3 grams of carbohydrate you consume, you should include 1 gram of protein.

Chocolate milk has been found to be one of the most effective recovery drinks because it includes all nutrients required to enhance the recovery process including carbohydrates, protein, fluid and electrolytes it can’t get easier than that! Other examples include specific recovery drinks, milk + banana, dried nuts and fruit, chicken sandwich or making your own recovery drink/shake with whey protein. For those athletes who find it difficult to eat solid food immediately after training and for convenience a recovery drink is the perfect option as liquid foods are absorbed much more quickly.

Hydration for recovery

What you ‘choose’ to drink immediately after exercise will determine how effectively you rehydrate. Research has shown that drinking water alone in the recovery period is not sufficient to restore ‘body water’ and the addition of electrolytes (sodium particularly) is required. Sodium is responsible not only for the uptake of fluids but also its retention within the body and movement between tissues. If you eat foods following exercise to replace protein and carbohydrates, this will generally replace any lost electrolytes and further supplements are not required.

If you wish to gain an estimate of your sweat rate to help you plan your nutritional strategy, weighing yourself before and after exercise will help you calculate fluid losses. Each millilitre of fluid weight 1 gram and each litre weight 1 kg, your fluid loss will be influenced by temperature, wind chill, clothing and state of hydration at the start of training. We suggest the following for hydration:

1. Sports drinks with electrolytes

2. Milk based drinks (shown to be extremely effective for rehydration)

3. Water and food combined (food will contain sodium which will help with the retention of fluid).

Reducing inflammation caused by endurance training

Significant levels of training induced inflammation, is known to have a negative impact upon both training and performance. The inflammation is triggered by daily soft tissue damage as a consequence of intense training and is recognized as muscle tenderness or soreness. Often the symptoms are felt 24-48 hours following training and athletes commonly wake up in the morning and feel a little ‘sore’ as a consequence of the hard training session or race the day before.

The inflammatory pathway is known to inhibit performance. Specific chemicals which circulate as a consequence of inflammation, have an inhibitory effect and can lead to poor mood state and low motivation. For this reason, it’s important that we apply a nutritional strategy, which will minimize inflammation.

The consumption of omega 3 fish oil is the most widely researched method of reducing inflammation in athletes. It is the essential fatty acids within these fish oils known as EPA and DHA that are the functional components involved in reducing inflammation. The recommended dosages of omega 3 supplementation on a daily basis, is equivalent to 1.5g of EPA/DHA. There are various supplements available, but the EPA/DHA levels within each should be checked carefully.

An intake of 150-200g of fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, tuna, and sardines a minimum of 4 times a week would be sufficient for most and you would not require fish oil supplementation. However, if this isn’t practical, then a daily supplementation of omega 3 fish oils containing the stated dosages above would be very beneficial. Taking omega 3 fish oils during exercise is not worthwhile and does not reduce inflammation within that session. It is the consistent daily intake of omega 3 oils that will lead to an overall reduction in inflammation after training.

The best time to take omega 3 fish oils is with meals where absorption is enhanced. If you are on any medication for blood pressure or heart problems please consult your GP before increasing oily fish consumption or taking supplements.

Antioxidants and inflammation

Endurance training presents a greater risk of harmful damage caused by ‘free radicals’, which are produced during exercise. Free radicals make their way around your body eating through cell walls and destroying cell structures, thereby allowing cell contents to leak out into the blood stream.

Antioxidants combat ‘free radical damage’ and can be found mainly in fruit and vegetables, there are many different antioxidants that help to mop up free radicals in the body and each antioxidant has a specific purpose. Examples of antioxidants include vitamin C (e.g. oranges, red peppers, lemons, kiwis, peas), Vitamin E (e.g. almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds and soybean), Beta Carotene (e.g. carrots and sweet potato), and phyto-chemicals such as flavanoids (e.g. green tea, quercitin, cocoa, pomegranate juice, fish oils).

The most effective way to increase antioxidant intake is to consume a varied diet, focusing upon foods that are natural sources of antioxidants such as fruit and vegetables. The use of high dosage, single antioxidant nutrients e.g. vitamin C or co-enzyme Q 10, is not recommended because many antioxidants work synergistically in the body and have a more potent effect when combined with others.

Antioxidant rich fruit and vegetables tend to be those that are darker and richer in colour e.g. blueberries ( and all other berries), broccoli, beetroot, pomegranate, red cabbage, carrots, plums, tomatoes, peppers, red grapes, sweet potato, pumpkin, oranges. Doubling up on your fruit and vegetables on a daily basis can increase the antioxidant property of your blood by as much as 15-25%.

In summary, you should take the following steps to enhance your weekly diet and your training:

1. Don’t over eat carbohydrates, your protein and fat intake should also be considered.
2. Look at your plate and the portions of each, does it look like 40 / 30 / 30 or is it more often 80/10/10??
3. Avoid the white carbohydrates such as bread/rice/pasta/potatoes and swap for the wholegrain/brown version
4. Bulk up on fruit and veg carbohydrate contribution rather than the white carbohydrates
5. Include a good portion of dark coloured fruit or veg every day which will be high in antioxidants (as per final paragraph)
6. Ensure your protein and fat contribution is from the ‘good list’ as much as possible
7. If you don’t eat oily fish 4 times per week, get a high quality omega 3 supplement which is high in EPA/DHA
8. After harder training sessions, ensure you take a drink which includes carbohydrate and protein within 10-20 mins of finishing

You can choose to make radical changes to your diet or you can make small changes, but any change for the better, no matter how small, will help you to recover quicker, train harder and race harder.

Marc Laithwaite

For more information on the services they provide www.theendurancecoach.com, they operate a sports science testing facility in St Helens, Merseyside and have a particular interest in metabolic efficiency for endurance sports. Over the last 12 months whilst they have championed training to enhance fat utilisation, they have also reached the conclusion that manipulating training sessions alone may not be enough to change metabolism. They believe that weekly eating also plays a major role upon metabolism and should be address to work collectively with your training programme for maximum gain.

They also have a wide range of running, swimming and cycling gear in stock www.theendurancestore.com

Keep up to date with them by giving them a like on their Facebook page

*Article adapted from original produced by Rebecca Dent, performance nutritionist with Scottish Institute of Sport.

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