Using Nutrition to Aid Recovery

If there is one thing that differentiates the nutritional needs of triathletes compared to other types of sport, it is the frequency of sequential training sessions the average triathlete will “back up” for. It is almost considered normal for an athlete training for triathlons to be out of bed at 4 or 5 in the morning for a 2 to 3 hour ride, back up at lunch for a swim and run set, followed by another 2-3 hour session in the evening. Obviously, it is vitally important that the right types of foods are eaten immediately after each of these sessions to ensure optimal muscle glycogen replacement in preparation for the next session. Compare some of these examples to see how your current recovery foods fare in terms of achieving all your own nutrition requirements.

It is well documented in the sports nutrition scientific literature that muscle glycogen replacement is significantly greater if high glycaemic index carbohydrate foods are consumed within thirty minutes of an intense session. This means it is extremely important that a range of these food types are kept in the car, workout bag, office desk drawer and briefcase to be consumed immediately after each session. Keep in mind that is not enough to just rely on these foods. You will also need to consume your regular meal, a balanced choice of low glycaemic index carbohydrate, protein and unsaturated fat, for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

There is a wide range of high glycaemic index, high carbohydrate foods to choose from, ranging from the more expensive sports foods such as carbohydrate gels and protein/carbohydrate bars to basic cereal bars, sports drinks, fruit and white bread. The absolute amount of carbohydrate each individual requires immediately post training will differ depending on the individuals overall goals eg if they are trying to lose body fat, gain lean body tissue or maintain current weight. There is also some evidence to show that consuming some protein in addition to high glycaemic index carbohydrate will help muscle regeneration. A general rule of thumb is to choose recovery foods that contain 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per serve and up to 20g of protein.

Here are some ideal “recovery foods” and some ideas on how to use them:

Food Type



Best for



Energy gels such GU,

20-30g of carbs


Competition, Run leg.

Sit lightly in gut

Energy low after consumption

Eg GU Powergel,

Final energy

Caffeine boost

Can cause stomach upsets

Carbo Shots


Relatively Expensive

Carbohydrate Bars

25-30g of carbs


End long rides

Sit lightly in gut

Very chewy

Eg Powerbar


Sports drink

30g carbs/600ml


Long rides


Need large volumes





30-40g carbs


Long rides



20-30g protein

Good snack

Slowly digested

Very chewy

Eg Powerbar Protein +

Protein FX

Cereal bars

25-30g carbs


Day to day

Easy to eat

Not good for fat loss

Eg Sustain/Fruit Twists

Karl Hayes

Karl is a keen age group triathlete who races more than he trains. Good life balance! Karl works in the media industry in Australia and is passionate about the sport of triathlon.