With the plethora of commercial recovery drinks and bars now available, it’s a confusing choice for athletes. The question is: are such products more effective than regular foods?
First, let’s consider what the science says. Dozens of studies have shown that consuming a combination of carbohydrate and protein (as opposed to carbs only) in the post-workout period promotes faster refuelling, muscle repair and muscle synthesis, and helps you perform better in your next workout. Your post-workout meal or snack should, ideally, comprise about 15 – 25g protein and about 1g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight. For a 70kg athletes this equates to 70g of carbohydrate and 20g protein
The majority of studies have used commercial recovery drinks or chocolate milk (whose manufacturers wish to market them as recovery foods). But this doesn’t mean that such products are superior to real foods; the very few studies that have used regular foods (e.g. bananas) have shown they work just as well.
There’s nothing wrong with specially formulated recovery supplements (which can be a convenient, portable and time-saving option) but when it comes to getting the nutrients you need after exercise high quality real foods are a better (and less expensive) choice. This goes for carbohydrate and protein, as well as vitamins, minerals, fibre, fats, antioxidants and phytonutrients, which you won’t get if you always pick engineered powders, drinks and bars for your recovery nutrition. Your main source of nutrition, whether you are an athlete or not, should be whole, real, nutritious foods.
Here are 7 real food options that provide carbohydrate and protein in amounts that optimize recovery as well as help meet other nutritional needs
- 500ml yoghurt and fruit milkshake. Use 500ml of milk plus yoghurt; and fresh fruit (bananas, strawberries, pears, mango and pineapple give the best results) for an excellent mixture of protein, carbohydrate and those all-important antioxidants.
- 50g of almonds or cashews plus 250ml yoghurt – Nuts supply not only 10g of protein but also B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc, phytonutrients and fibre. Yoghurt supplies another 10g of protein.
- 250ml strained Greek yoghurt. Also perfect after a strength workout, strained Greek yogurt is more concentrated so contains about twice the protein of ordinary yoghurt.
- 500 ml milk with a banana. Any type of milk will give will provide the protein needed to maximize muscle adaptation after exercise. It also contains the optimal amount of the branched chain amino acid, leucine, to promote muscle building after exercise.
- A ‘high protein’ sandwich. Make your own with 85g meat, chicken, turkey, fish or cheese and a couple of slices of wholegrain bread, then add some salad for a great refuelling snack.
- A bowl of porridge with nuts and fresh/dried fruit – Made with 500ml milk and 65g oats, porridge is an ideal recovery food as it provides the ideal ratio of carbohydrate and protein, along with B-vitamins, iron and fibre.
- Fruit and nut bar (see my recipe here): An ideal alternative to flapjacks if you want rapid recovery plus muscle rebuilding and repair
- Fruit and nut bars
Makes 12 bars
2 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
125g porridge oats
100g chopped roasted hazelnuts
50g flaked almonds
50g chopped walnuts
A pinch of sea salt
- Heat the oven to 190 C/ fan 170/ gas 5. Line a 9 in square baking tin with baking parchment
- Place the dates in a small saucepan with enough water to just cover. Cook the dates for about 5 minutes until soft. Drain off most of the water and puree with the honey in a food processor until smooth.
- Mix the cinnamon, oats, nuts, raisins and salt in a large bowl, add the date puree and mix until well combined.
- Press the mixture into the lined tin, smoothing the surface so it is even on all sides. Bake for 20 minutes or until the mixture feels firm and the edges are just starting to come away from the sides. Cool in the tin then cut into bars. They can be stored for up to a week in an airtight tin.
Nutrition (per bar):