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In many areas of sports nutrition, there is a familiar trajectory to the development of a new area of interest. The story often starts with a lack of interest in and awareness of the area. However, a few key studies or anecdotal practices appear, pricking the interest of sections of the sports nutrition community. Momentum is generated, and the resulting outputs allow the development of practical guidelines to take advantage of the new knowledge. A market is created for a range of gadgets and resources, and suddenly, the sports world is filled with experts, special facilities and must-have products. The overflow to the mass market and to recreational athletes further simplifies the message to a ‘one size fits all’ approach, mandatory and universally applied to all situations and individuals. Then, just when peak interest has occurred, new evidence emerges that the picture is far more complex than previously thought. We learn that we have over-diagnosed the importance, prevalence or symptoms of our issue. Worse still, we find that some of our newly recommended practices may not just be benign, even if they are unnecessary, but may actually be harmful to our goals. The theme of recovery nutrition provides a worthy example of such a cycle.

This chapter provides an update and more nuanced consideration of several aspects of ‘recovery nutrition’, including a cost:benefit analysis of various post-exercise eating and drinking practices. It also articulates how these considerations integrate into the most recent guidelines for carbohydrate (CHO) intake in the training diet, including the possibility that withholding CHO may be beneficial to some aspects of adaptation.


Athletes commonly undertake strenuous training programs involving one or more prolonged high-intensity exercise sessions each day, typically allowing 6–24 hours for recovery between workouts. In some sports, competition is conducted as a series of events or stages. In sports such as swimming or track and field, athletes are scheduled to compete in a number of brief races, or in a series involving heats, semi-finals and finals, often performing more than once each day. In tennis and team-sport tournaments, or cycle stage races, competitors may be required to undertake one or more lengthy events each day, with the competition extending for 1–3 weeks. Even where athletes compete in a weekly fixture, optimal recovery is desired to allow the athlete to train between matches or races to maintain conditioning and skills.

It is understandable, given the cluttered training and competition timetables of the modern athlete, that attention would be focused on strategies to make effective use of the period between exercise sessions. Indeed, sports nutrition has been a beneficiary of the flourishing industry that has spawned recovery centres and specialists. However, a sceptical view is that recovery eating is misunderstood and poorly practised by many athletes who see it as a requirement or excuse to eat or ...

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