Short-Term Recovery Nutrition

August 22, 2006 11:42 AM

By Jim Brown, Ph.D., Author, Tennis: Steps to Success, Executive Editor, Sports Performance Journal (

What a tennis player eats or drinks to recover following intensive training or competition should vary with the amount of time before the next exercise session. In the latest issue of Gatorade Sports Science Exchange, Clyde Williams, Ph.D., of Loughborough University in England provides short-term, time-specific guidelines based on current research. Dr. Williams focuses on carbohydrates to restore glycogen stores and fluids to rehydrate for the short term (2-24 hours). He does not address long-term recovery (days, weeks) nor protein synthesis in the muscles. In reading the information that follows, keep in mind that one kilogram is equal to 2.2 pounds.

Athletes who train twice a day or compete in sports that involve two more games, matches, or events during the same day have to recover quickly or risk poor performance. Recovery strategies depend on the specific sport or type of exercise, but whatever the activity, there are three essential requirements for successful short-term recovery:

1) resynthesis of the body’s carbohydrate stores
2) rehydraton
3) rest

24 Hours to Recover (morning workouts)
Those who compete or train once a day during the mornings have the rest of the day to restock glycogen stores and rehydrate. Immediately after a session, they should consume a sports drink that provides the equivalent of one gram of carbohydrate per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight and drink the same amount every hour until they have their next meal. Meals for the rest of the day should contain enough carbohydrate to bring the total carbohydrate intake for a 24-hour period to approximately 8-10 g/2.2 pounds (one kilogram). For a 176-pound athlete, this amounts to 640-800 grams of carbohydrate for 24 hours. The reason for the sports drink is to get the recommended amount of carbohydrate, as well fluids that will contribute to rehydration and maintain fluid balance.

2-4 Hours to Recover
Recovery periods can be as short as two hours for swimmers, tennis players, wrestlers, and other athletes. Dr. Williams says that even in a period of time that brief, athletes can replace a significant amount of glycogen. In those cases, consume 0.8-1.2 grams of carbohydrate per 2.2 pounds per hour at 30-minute intervals. Again, he says the most effective way to restore muscle glycogen is by consuming sports drinks. The fluid intake should be equivalent to 150 percent of the body weight lost during the previous exercise period, and that can be determined by noting body weight before and after exercise. Right after exercise, fluids are a better choice than solid foods, but food is okay after a cool-down period. Those foods should consist of easily digestible carbohydrates in low to moderate amounts that won’t result in stomach problems. Williams says this is particularly important for runners, but less important for cyclists.

Daily Training
Athletes who train every day, but not necessarily in the mornings, need 5-7 grams of carbohydrate per 2.2 pounds of body weight per day, and they should start replenishing their carbohydrate reserves immediately after exercise. To “kick-start” the glycogen re-synthesis process, get 0.8-1.2 grams per 2.2 pounds body weight per hour. If you begin a daily training session lighter than the day before and you have not restricted your food intake, dehydration is a possibility. Monitoring your body weight before and after strenuous exercise again provides useful information about energy balance and serves as a rough guide to your level of hydration.