Despite nutrition being a well-known means to fuel for optimal performance, it’s role in recovering from intense exercise is often undervalued. Recovery from exercise can be split into 3 key areas:
- Replenishmentof energy stores
- Reconstruction of muscle damage
Replenishment of energy stores
Any form of intense exercise significantly depletes carbohydrate stores in your muscle tissue (glycogen stores) after ~90 minutes, which is clearly an important time frame in terms of football training and matches.
As glycogen resynthesis - the speed that glycogen levels are restored in your muscle tissue - occurs at a low rate of just ~5% per hour, immediate carbohydrate ingestion is necessary to ensure recovery time is reduced as much as possible.
In addition, the early post-exercise period (~1 hour) has consistently shown to have a supercompensatory effect on glycogen resynthesis when carbohydrates are ingested, and not taking advantage of this period could decrease glycogen resynthesis rates by ~50%.
This is especially important if you have scheduled another exercise session within 24 hours of the first training session or match, as you may otherwise enter this session with low energy stores.
Recommendations are to consume ~2-3 grams of carbohydrate per kg of your bodyweight within the 3 hours after intense training or matches to maximize post-exercise muscle glycogen resynthesis rates.
For most footballers this equates to ~120-300 grams of carbohydrates soon afterexercise, typically coming from sports drinks, recovery shakes, energy bars, fruit, and refined grains such as pasta and rice.
This is quite a large range but precise recommendations are ultimately dependent on exercise intensity, duration, and even individual factors such as gender.
Despite the benefits of this immediate recovery phase, the main focus for an athlete’s recovery should be total daily carbohydrate intake, as complete glycogen resynthesis cannot be fully achieved by focusing solely on the short-term post-exercise period.
As mentioned, ingesting carbohydrates during this immediate period may contribute more towards glycogen synthesis compared to later recovery meals, however it is important to understand that each additional meal has a cumulative effect on overall energy replenishment.
Based on this, immediate recovery protocols should come secondary to the most important driver of glycogen resynthesis which is total daily carbohydrate intake.
A great recommendation for footballers is to consume ~6-10 grams of carbohydrates per kg bodyweight within the 24-hour period after any intense training session or match.
Again, the optimal amount is highly dependent on the level of glycogen depletion from exercise which is dictated by exercise intensity and duration.
Carbohydrate sources for complete recovery, as opposed to immediate recovery, are focused more around whole food sources such as wholegrains, potatoes, legumes, and fruit.
Reconstruction of muscle damage
Intense exercise causes many of your muscle proteins to break down (known as protein degradation), a process that can impair recovery, adaptations to exercise, and lead to muscular injury.
After exercise, there is a modest increase in muscle protein synthesis (generation of new proteins), in addition to a more pronounced increase in muscle protein breakdown.
This results in an overall negative protein balance which can only be reversed by dietary protein consumption.
Adequate protein feeding post-exercise favourably alters this physiological state by inhibiting muscle protein breakdown, stimulating muscle protein synthesis, and improving overall protein balance.
Logically, the sooner this recovery process is initiated post-exercise, the faster you will recover before your next session and the less time spent in a degradative state.
Immediate protein intake is therefore essential for footballers, with current recommendations focused at consuming 0.3 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight within 1 hour of exercise.
Ideally this should be sourced from fast-digesting sources of protein such as whey protein or lean meats.
Although most recommendations for recovery only focus on immediate protein consumption in the early post-exercise period (~1 hour), daily protein intake should remain an athlete’s priority when aiming for complete recovery.
Unfortunately, although immediate protein ingestion post-exercise is beneficial, it is definitely not enough for complete muscular recovery and adaptation.
This is most evident when considering exercise-enhancement of muscle protein synthesis remains elevated for the 24-48 period post-exercise.
Current recommendations are to repeat the consumption of 0.3 grams of protein per kg bodyweight every 3-4 hours (ignoring periods of sleep) to ensure the maintenance of positive muscle protein balance.
Such frequent protein feedings are recommended as rises in muscle protein synthesis after a single meal are transient, and return to normal levels within 3 hours despite sustained elevations in amino acid availability.
This amount and frequency of intake will successfully allow you to reach the daily protein recommendations for footballers which is 1.4-2.0 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight.
Immediate and Complete
During training sessions and matches, especially those in hot temperatures, it is extremely challenging to adequately replace all fluids lost via sweat.
This may leave you dehydrated by the end of an exercise session and impair the functioning of various metabolic processes such as glycogen replenishment and immune health.
Rehydration is therefore very important post-exercise to effectively normalize the levels of fluid within your blood, gut, and muscle tissue.
Sweat rates vary considerably between athletes, and even differ within individuals based on environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity.
Most athletes sweat around 1.2 liters per hour during exercise, however this varies dramatically person-to-person from 0.25-5.75 litres per hour.
Such a considerable range makes it essential for you to measure your personal sweating rate.
This can be achieved by weighing in before and after a training session and match, as this gives an estimation of your fluid losses per hour of exercise (1kg bodyweight loss = 1 litre of fluid).
For optimal and immediate rehydration, it is recommended to consume 150% of lost fluid weight within the 4-6 hour period post-exercise. In other words, consume 1.5 litres of fluid for every 1kg bodyweight lost during exercise (accounting for any fluid consumed during exercise).
Consuming dietary sodium as part of this rehydration process helps to retain fluids and replace sodium losses due to exercise. The amount of sodium in sweat averages around 43 mmol per litre, and is the reason why dietary sodium recommendations are to consume 50-90 mmol per litre for optimal rehydration.
For most footballers this equates to ~0.5-1 gram of sodium in the immediate post-exercise period.
These recommendations will put you back into a well-hydrated state, and to maintain complete hydration throughout the day it is advised to drink to thirst.
Most footballers should be consuming a total ~3-6 litres offluid per day.