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Athletes need to learn to appreciate just how important the concepts of proper PREPARATION and RECOVERY are to performance. Without proper PREPARATION and RECOVERY it is is impossible to perform at prime levels. Please read below to better understand how you can make sure your son/player understands how best to prepare (before) and recover (after) training or games:


What are the priorities for recovery nutrition?

The process involved in recovering after a training session is one of the more important aspects of being an athlete. It includes a wide variety of factors and nutrition is one of the more important of these factors. Essentially, what we mean when we say recovery nutrition is that we need to try and replace the fuel that we used during exercise. If we fail to replace the fuel we use during exercise, then we will slowly start to become more and more fatigued. The fuels I am speaking of are carbohydrates, fat and protein. Although all three fuel sources are used all the time, one fuel source tends to dominate during specific intensities. Carbohydrates are the dominant fuel source during high intensity training and fat is the dominant fuel source during low intensity training. Replacing this fuel is best done quickly after the training session because the athlete’s metabolism is increased and thus the restoration process is working in full gear. It only makes sense to attempt to use this increased metabolism to try and put the new fuel back into storage (in the muscle) as fast as possible. The best window of opportunity is within 60 minutes of completing the training session. Recovery is a challenge for athletes who are undertaking two or more sessions each day, training for prolonged periods, or competing in a program that involves multiple events. A more detailed analysis of recovery nutrition includes:

  • Replacing expended fuel back into the muscles and liver
  • Replacing the fluid and electrolytes lost from sweating
  • Allowing the immune system to handle the damage and challenges caused by the exercise session
  • Allowing the body to make new muscle protein, red blood cells and other cellular components as part of the repair and adaptation process

The importance of each of these goals varies according to the workout - for example, how much fuel was used? Was muscle damage caused? Did the athlete lose much sweat? Being proactive and eating high quality recovery foods means you are providing the body with all the nutrients it needs, in a speedy and practical manner, to optimize the desired processes following each session. Here are some good tips to start you out:



Your muscles can restore it’s carbohydrate fuel (the storage form of carbohydrate is called glycogen) levels by about 5 per cent per hour, provided that you eat enough carbohydrate. Depending on how much fuel you used during the training session and how soon the next exercise session or competition will be, an athlete may need to consume 6-10 g of carbohydrate per kg body weight each day (300-700 g per day). If you have less than 8 hours in between exercise sessions, you need to make the best use of your time and refuel quickly and effectively. The best way to get this process started is to eat at least 1 g/kg of carbohydrate (50-100g for most athletes) as soon as possible after the exercise session to help prepare for the next session.


Regardless of how well you drink during an exercise session or game, you will have lost more fluid than you can replace. In other words, you will have some level of dehydration. In hot and humid conditions or after harder sessions, you will lose more fluid than those during cooler conditions and/or lower intensity sessions. The easiest way to determine how much fluid you lost during a session is to weigh yourself immediate before and again immediately after it. If you eat or drink during the session you need to weigh this as well. The difference in weight is how much fluid you lost during the session. You may need to drink 150 percent of the fluid you lost during the session to get back to normal. For example, if you are 2 kg lighter (2 liters lighter) at the end of the session, you will need to drink 3 liters of fluid over the next 2-3 hours to fully replace the fluid you lost.

Immune System

When you exercise, your immune system is negatively effected. So much so that during the first hour after exercise most of your primary immune functions will not being working very well. During this time, you may be more at risk to getting sick. To avoid getting sick during this time frame, you need to follow a few simple guidelines. First you need to avoid people who are sick. Second you need to make sure to take a shower and wash your hands, and recent research findings suggest that eating carbohydrates really helps the immune system get back on track. Eating carbohydrates may be helpful for a number of other reasons. For example, carbohydrates reduce the stress hormone response to exercise which in turn decreases its effect on the immune system.

Muscle Repair and Building

High intensity exercise sessions that last a long time can cause a lot of muscle protein to breakdown, or in other words cause your muscles to feel sore and stiff. Muscle protein breakdown is basically your muscles are damaged during the session. This is an important process because this is how your body gets stronger while it rebuilds itself.

This rebuilding process will not work effectively if you do not eat and drink after exercise. Recent research suggests that you need to eat high quality protein (meats) with essential amino acids to help in the rebuilding process. Protein eaten immediately after, or in the case of resistance training work-outs, immediately before the session, is used by the muscle more effectively than proteins eaten many hours after exercise. Ideally, proteins should be eaten with carbohydrates to maximize the rebuilding process. The carbohydrates help protein absorption by stimulating the insulin response that is important also for protein absorption.

How does recovery eating fit into the big picture of nutrition goals?

Many of you play multiple sports such in addition to soccer. If any of you have more than one exercise session or game a day, then eating to help you recover and prepare for the next session becomes even more important. During the first hour after the exercise session or game, it becomes very important to eat the right foods and also to drink enough fluid to help prepare you for the next session. You can use simple snacks such as fruits and vegetables, sports drinks, and small sandwiches. Many of you are still young and growing taller every day. This means that you have high energy needs just for the growing process itself. Snacks that can supply special needs for calcium, iron or other nutrients may double up as recovery snacks and good overall choices.

What are the practical considerations for recovery eating?

Some athletes finish sessions with a good appetite, so most foods are appealing to eat. Unfortunately, when you are tired and fatigued, you don’t often feel like eating. This means that you need to work with your parents and coaches on the best snacks for you. Fruit works very well as it often tastes good and is easy to chew. Sports drinks are good, but try and change the flavor often so you don’t get tired of them. Simple snacks that can be put into your backpack also work very well such as granola bars. Always try new snacks to keep your taste buds happy and also to make sure your recovery is good. Situations and challenges in sport change from day to day and from athlete to athlete so recovery snacks need to be carefully chosen to meet these needs.

What is the bottom line for candy?

For individual athletes who want an easily consumed source of simple carbohydrates, candy is a suitable choice. Like many other carbohydrate foods, candy will help in meeting refueling goals. However, candy does not provide protein, minerals, fluid or other nutrients that could be important in other recovery processes. Therefore, other recovery snacks should be eaten in addition to, or instead of, candy to fulfill the complete recovery picture. Candy is not the answer to the recovery problem, it is just part of the equation. Be smart, do not eat excessive amounts of candy and eat candy with other more nutritious foods as a secondary food source (not the primary food source). The bottom line is that each athlete needs to judge their recovery needs and plan an eating pattern that fits their total package.

The following provides ideas for snacks providing carbohydrate, as well as carbohydrate-protein combinations.

Carbohydrate-rich recovery snacks (50g CHO portions):

  • 700-800ml sports drink
  • 2 sports gels
  • 500ml fruit juice
  • 300ml carbohydrate sports drink
  • 60-70g packet jelly beans or gummies
  • 2 slices toast/bread with jam or honey or banana topping
  • 1 large chocolate bar (80g)
  • 2 cereal bars
  • 1 cup thick vegetable soup + large bread roll
  • 115g (1 large or 2 small) American muffins, fruit buns or scones
  • 300g creamed rice • 300g (large) baked potato with salsa filling
  • 100g pancakes (2 stack) + 30g syrup

Nutritious carbohydrate-protein recovery snacks (contain 50g CHO + valuable source of protein and micronutrients):

  • 250-300ml liquid meal supplemen
  • 250-300ml milk shake or fruit smoothie
  • 1-2 sports bars (check labels for carbohydrate and protein content)
  • 1 large bowl (2 cups) breakfast cereal with milk
  • 1 large or 2 small cereal bars + 200g carton fruit flavored yoghurt
  • 300g (bowl) fruit salad with 200g fruit flavored yoghurt

Original document written by Louise Burke and the Department of Sports Nutrition, AIS © Australian Sports Commission 2011. 


Why is iron important?

Iron is an important mineral that our bodies use to do many different things. The iron that is most useful to our bodies is called “ferritin”. Iron is used for a number of key functions including:

• Iron is an important component of hemoglobin and myoglobin. Hemoglobin transports oxygen in the blood. Myoglobin transports oxygen in the muscles. • Iron is involved in the electron transport system. This system controls the release of energy from cells. • Iron is required for red blood cell production. • Iron is required for a healthy immune system

Although you might not understand all of these functions, rest assured they are important. If you have low levels of iron in your body, then you will not transport oxygen very well, the new red blood cells you make will be weaker and not as effective, and your immune system will not protect you as well from getting sick.

Where does iron come from?

Your body does not make its own iron. This means you need to get iron through the food you eat. It’s important that you understand that this is the only way to get iron. If you don’t get it through your foods, then you don’t get any and you will become iron deficient. Iron is in a wide variety of foods, but the problem is that some sources of iron are better than others. Iron absorption is the biggest issue that you will have when you try to select foods. The foods that have something called heme iron will give you the best absorption rates of iron (around 15 to 18%). The best sources of heme iron include red meat, seafood and poultry (chicken and turkey).

Iron absorption from foods that contain non-heme iron is much lower (<5%). Non-heme iron is found in plant foods such as cereals, vegetables, legumes and nuts. The absorption of non-heme iron can be improved by combining sources of heme iron with non-heme iron. Whenever you can, try to eat foods high in vitamin C-rich with meals (e.g. juice or fruit with breakfast, bell peppers in a stir fry, salad or fruit with a sandwich) because vitamin C helps to increase the absorption rate of non-heme iron.

Unfortunately, some foods decrease the absorption rate of iron. If you drink a lot of tea or coffee, or if you eat a lot of bran in your food then you will decrease your chances of absorbing the iron that you do eat. Consumption of these foods may need to be modified when iron status is poor.

Listed below are good sources of iron. Some recommended foods and their iron contents are provided below:

Heme iron rich foods:
11 mg in 100g of liver
1.2 mg in 100g of beef
1.4 mg in 100g of chicken
4.0 mg in 100g of fish

Non-heme iron rich foods:
2 mg in 2 eggs v 2.5 mg in 1 cup of breakfast cereal
4.4 mg in 2 slices of whole meal bread
2.5 mg in 145 g of spinach
2.5 mg in 100 g of cooked lentils/kidney beans
1.9 mg in 100 g of tofu
0.9 mg in 50 g of raisins
2.0 mg in 50 mg of dried apricots
2.1 mg in 50 mg of almonds

Source: Burke L, Complete Guide to Food for Sports Performance, Allen and Unwin, 1999

How much iron do I need?

The information provides the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for iron:
AGES 9-13 14-18 19-50 51+ Pregnant
MALE 8 mg/day 11 mg/day 8 mg/day 8 mg/day NA
FEMALE 8 mg/day 15 mg/day 18 mg/day 8 mg/day 27 mg/day

Source: NHMRC Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand 2006

How much iron do you need specifically as an athlete? Unfortunately, this is not well known at the moment. It is known however that endurance athletes (particularly runners) are thought to require more iron than other athletes. Soccer falls into this category and so you should begin to pay attention to how much iron you get in your meals.

Are athletes more at risk?

Athletes have a higher risk of becoming low in iron (called iron depletion) for several reasons:

  1. Athletes have higher requirements than non-athletes. Athletes produce more red blood cells (which help in the transport of oxygen) and iron is an important ingredient for red blood cells. This is particularly important for athletes that are still growing and maturing
  2. Athletes have greater losses of iron because of the exercises they do. Iron is lost in your sweat. Athletes with high sweat losses have higher iron losses. Most athletes have something called “foot strike hemolysis” that literally means that as you run, the red blood cells are crushed and broken with each foot strike. Since running is a very important part of what you do everyday, you lose a lot of iron through this process.
  3. Not all athletes eat very well
  • Iron intake is often sub-optimal in athletes with restricted food intakes:
  • Poorly balanced vegetarian diets
  • Avoidance of meat, chicken or fish in an effort to enhance carbohydrate intake or in the mistaken belief that it is fattening
  • High reliance on snack and convenience foods and failure to consume regular meals
  • Avoidance of commercially fortified foods such as breakfast cereals

How will I know if I have a problem?

You lose iron every day and all day. It only becomes a problem if you start to eat poorly. The most difficult part of becoming “iron depleted” is that it takes a long time to get all that lost iron back into your body. Why is this? Because it is very hard for the body to absorb iron from the food and even if you eat lots and lots of really good iron containing food, your body can only absorb so much each day. If you eat poorly for too long a time, this results in iron deficiency anemia if untreated. Iron deficiency anemia is a condition where iron is depleted to such an extent that the manufacture of hemoglobin and red blood cells is limited. It is associated with symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, breathlessness, and impaired aerobic capacity. It is easy to confuse many of these symptoms with conditions such as the flu, overtraining or ‘being run-down’.

The most common way to assess your iron levels is to get a blood test for a “full iron profile” at your local hospital. Blood tests should be used with a review of your eating habits to be most effective. A number of different factors are usually taken into account when assessing your iron status. These include serum iron, ferritin, transferrin, transferrin saturation, hemoglobin and full blood count. A skilled practitioner is needed to accurately assess iron status. Many athletes have routine blood monitoring to assess iron status. Iron depleted athletes can quickly develop iron deficiency anemia if not detected early.

How is iron deficiency treated?

First of all, the best program for iron deficiency is to never get there by eating the right foods. This is something we call “prevention”. However, if you do become iron deficient, then iron supplementation may be needed to recover depleted iron stores, along with a change in diet, to eat foods that are iron rich and have heme iron in them for better absorption. A diet rich in iron is needed to prevent iron depletion reoccurring. A dietitian can provide specific feedback. However, the following tips will help:

• Choose breakfast cereals that contain added iron. • Consume red meat such as beef, lamb or chicken 3-4 times each week. Small amounts (80-100 g) are sufficient. Consume meat. Shellfish, canned fish and poultry are also useful sources of iron. • Add vitamin C-rich foods (fruit, juice, bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower) to meals to enhance the absorption of iron. • For vegetarian meals, choose iron-rich foods such as legumes and add vitamin C-rich foods to enhance the absorption of non-heme iron • Avoid or limit intake of iron inhibitors such as bran and wheat germ. • Avoid drinking strong tea and coffee with meals. It is OK between meals but not with meals.

Should I take an iron supplement?

It is very difficult to correct iron deficiency anemia only with an iron-rich diet. Supplementation (under the guidance of your medical practitioner) is usually required to treat iron deficiency. Yearly check ups are the best way to check if your iron levels. If your sports doctor determines that you are iron deficient, then a program will be organized for you to follow to help correct the problem. Regular, inappropriate use of iron supplements can interfere with zinc and copper absorption and may have negative effects on the immune system. This means it is not recommended that you supplement with iron without proper understanding, testing and guidance. Iron supplements should not be taken without medical advice.

Originally written by Michelle Minehan and the Department of Sports Nutrition, AIS © Australian Sports Commission 2004.