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Cal South E-News | September 2010 NUTRITION EDUCATION

September 16, 2010

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Nutrition Education provided by Selina Lai, M.S., R.D.
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Foods for Recovery: Eating Well After Intense Training or Competition

By Selina Lai, M.S., R.D.

The time right after intense training or in between soccer matches is a window of opportunity for physical recovery. Recovery nutrition is important for soccer players who practice or train for over an hour several times a week and to those who participate in weekend tournaments with several matches on the same day.

Three important nutrition goals right after a workout or game are:

  • Replenishment of glycogen fuel stores in muscles
  • Muscle repair
  • Rehydration

A fourth goal, which isn't often touched upon, is reducing fluctuations in the immune system's response to exercise.

Replenishment of Fuel

When we exercise with high intensity, glycogen, the carbohydrate stored in muscles and the liver, is used for energy. The body takes up carbohydrate and protein most efficiently in the first few hours following exercise. This means it is very important to eat and drink soon (within 15 minutes of training and for at least the next 2 hours) after exercise to get the full benefit of the body's readiness. High carbohydrate foods, including cereal, pasta, rice, bread, fruit juice, fruits, milk products, beans and vegetables, should be on the menu. For athletes weighing 60-120 lbs, the recommended carbohydrate intake would be 33 to 65 grams (g) carbohydrate (1.2 g carbohydrate/kg body weight) in the immediate period following exercise.

Recovery snacks with approximately 50g (or more) of carbohydrates are:

  • About 3 cups of a sports drink
  • 2 cups fruit juice or soft drink
  • 2 oz of jelly beans
  • 1 bagel with jam or honey
  • 2 granola bars or oatmeal cookies
  • 2 small muffins
  • 16 oz fruit smoothie
  • 2 cups of fresh fruit
  • 2 tortillas (8 inch) or baked tortilla chips with mild salsa

Muscle Repair

Adding protein to a recovery snack helps rebuild and repair muscle. Sometimes athletes don't feel very hungry right after an intense training session. Having a liquid snack may be more easily tolerated. One of the easiest choices is cold chocolate milk!

Some other recovery snacks that provide carbohydrates and protein are:

  • 16 oz fruit smoothie with yogurt or other protein base
  • Fruit yogurt plus a banana
  • 1 cup fruit juice, ½ cup cottage cheese, bagel
  • 2 waffles with 2 Tbsp syrup
  • 6 Graham cracker squares and chocolate milk
  • Roast beef, chicken, tuna fish, sliced turkey, ham or vegetarian sandwich on low-fiber bread without cheese (low fat cheese is ok) (2oz protein in the sandwich).
  • Sports bar with high carbohydrate and moderate protein - examples: Clif™, Luna™, Tiger's Milk Bar™
  • 6 - 8 pieces of sushi
  • 1 cup of cooked rice with 2 oz barbeque chicken or beef


One of the best ways to figure out just how much fluid your athlete uses during a game or training session is to weigh him or her before and after an intense practice or game. Sweat losses reflect fluid lost during exercise and can help gauge individual fluid needs. A guideline for replenishment is 2 cups of fluid per pound of weight loss during exercise. Consuming 6-12 fl. oz. (3/4 - 1 ½ cups) every 15-20 minutes during exercise will help reduce dehydration risk.

Still, most recommendations say that athletes should drink 125-150% of their estimated fluid losses in the 4-6 hours after exercise. If your snack is providing the carbohydrates then to stick to water, "lite" lemonade, "lite" iced tea, or a sports drink for beverages. Add plenty of ice to your beverage when the temperature is hot.

The fourth goal of recovery nutrition is to help the body's immune system recover from the stress of exercise. According to the Australian Institute for Sports consuming carbohydrate-rich foods is one of the most promising nutritional immune protectors.

Just a small change in food choices after intense soccer training or games can make a big impact on the body's ability to endure the formidable challenges of soccer fitness. High carbohydrate, moderate protein foods combined with lots of fluids will keep your soccer player ready to play on for a lifetime.


©Selina Lai, M.S., R.D., Foods for Recovery - Eating Well After Intense Training or Competition, 2010. Please contact the author at selina@goodeatsforsoccer.com with questions, comments and for reprint permission.

About the Author:
Selina Lai has been a Registered Dietitian for 20 years. She studied Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of British Columbia and California State University, Long Beach. She has worked as a nutrition educator with a wide range of clients. Most recently she has developed nutrition and cooking classes for preschool and elementary school children. Her recently published book "Good Eats for Soccer - Nutrition Choices for Competitive Youth Soccer" (www.goodeatsforsoccer.com) focuses on diet modifications for the moderate to high intensity physical demands of youth soccer players during tournaments. She is an "intermediate" level referee. She was recently honored with the prestigious "Golden Oak Service Award" by the California PTA for her service to children in her community. She resides in Rancho Palos Verdes, California with her husband and two boys, one of which plays in the Palos Verdes Soccer Club.