Rest and digest: Expert recovery advice and 6 high-protein recipes

Performance is everything.

Whether you’re trekking mountains, shredding the trails, pounding pavements or hitting it hard in the gym — we all want to push ourselves to go higher, further, faster or heavier.

But the amount of time we actually spend exercising is relatively little compared to that between those sessions. Time that could — no, should — be capitalised upon to push our performance up a notch.

Results come quicker when we use our downtime effectively.

Rest, and Digest

Pushing yourself to the brink, without taking time out to focus recovery, is a recipe for disaster. As well as affecting how fresh your body feels, it has a knock on effect on the rest of your training too – making it difficult to achieve those performance bests you’re chasing.

Think of your body as a (very complex) bank account. If you’re withdrawing money — through exercise — but still want to see the same (or bigger) bank balance, you have to deposit that money back in.

This ‘credit’, or recovery, can be broken down into three basic elements:

  • Strive for really good quality sleep between seven and nine hours a night. As well as aiding concentration, to help enhance reaction times and accuracy, the right amount of good quality sleep will benefit your mental endurance. Recovery isn’t just about making sure your muscles are ready to perform. To push yourself further, you need to be in the right frame of mind.
  • Keep your muscles and (blood flow) moving to aid recovery. We’re not recommending anything overly strenuous or intensive; yoga or low intensity exercises like light walks are perfect for helping the oxygen and nutrients, vital to rapid recovery, circulate your body.
  • Fuel your body with enough quality food to enable your body to recover. As a fundamental pillar of your recovery, food is a really important —  so we decided to ask the experts for their top tips when it comes to post-workout nutrition.

We’ve rounded up some simple recipes from top nutritionists, coaches and academics for you to digest…

A Swiss Start to the Day

His name alone is a mouthful…

Swiss Maximilian Oskar Bircher-Benner, an early pioneer in food science, believed food could be used to improve his patients’ well-being, and was not solely for satisfying hunger.

Having found its way back into fashion, Bircher’s namesake muesli has all the markers of a perfect breakfast.

“My day starts very early and training is first-up on my to-do list. My breakfast then, needs to be balanced, full of quality nutrients and fuel me up for the day. Bircher muesli — or overnight oats — fit the bill perfectly,” says Fitness Coach Aled Zachery.

“I soak oats with grated apple and low-fat Greek yoghurt. Then either berries or chia seeds for extra fibre. I throw in a spoon of nut butter for fat too. It’s very easy to prepare, full of protein, and packed with nutrients and complex carbohydrates.”

Post-Sportive Snacking

If you’re training for your first trail run, perfecting your tennis technique or spending hours clipped-into the pedals; there are few things as tasty, and easy to pack, as a decent sandwich.

From the changing rooms of the National Basketball Association — coined as the league’s ‘secret addiction’ — to being a firm favourite of famous cyclists alike, the humble jam sandwich has long been a quick-fix ‘pick me up’.

But when it comes to proper recovery, your nutrient needs are going to demand more than the sweet surge of energy and short-lived lift that the beloved jam sandwich provides.

Instead, turn to the complex carbohydrates in wholemeal or granary breads. These will help sustain you during and after long exhausting exercise, releasing energy more slowly than regular white breads and helping you to recover — so you’re ready to go again.

Fitness Coach Dan Mitchell shares his favourite sandwich:

“Post ride, my go-to recovery meal is always a sandwich and always follows the same basic principle. Stacks of pickles and loads of lettuce for some vegetables, and always thick sliced meat on granary bread. Sometimes I sneak in wine gums too (not inside the sandwich!) to quickly replenish glycogen in my muscles.”

Muscle Building Baked Potatoes

The storecupboard staple jacket potato and baked beans might not sound the most exciting post-exercise meal, but the humble hot potato packs some serious credentials!

In just one small baked potato, you’ll find plenty of simple carbohydrates, perfect for replenishing the energy lost during exercise. There’s protein and fibre too, and not to mention an abundance of vitamins and minerals — just be sure to keep the skin on!

There’s more than half your recommended dietary allowance of Vitamin C, and more potassium than a banana — one of three electrolytes (along with sodium and chloride) that help not only your heart, but all muscles to function effectively.

Teamed with a serving of baked beans, for an extra hit of protein and fibre, a baked potato and beans is a perfectly balanced meal packed with nutrients to help you recover…

“A classic student staple; the JP and baked beans is a convenient and cheap meal I can bang in the oven — leave for a few hours — and it’s ready as soon as I’m back from training,” says Nutrition Coach, Jonathon Oates. “If it sounds basic, I usually sprinkle paprika and chilli flakes to ‘pep’ it up a bit, and butter or oil for a small amount of fat.”

The ‘Fuel-Up’ Fast Track

It’s clear protein and carbohydrates play a huge roll in our recovery — that’s no secret.

But not all proteins are created equal.

Meat, fish, eggs and dairy contain all 9 essential amino-acids — those that our bodies cannot synthesize or make. Humans have to consume these essential amino-acids in our food; proteins that have all 9 are known as ‘complete’, and are serious recovery fodder…

“I start with 4 scrambled eggs and a tin of sardines in olive oil, lemon juice and salsa on the side. It sounds simple, and is! But it’s protein-packed, alright,” says Personal Trainer and Health and Fitness expert Olly Hermon-Taylor“My first meal of the day is usually after a hard gymnastic strength session on the rings, and breaks a 16—17 hour fast. So scrambled eggs aren’t going to fuel — or fill me up — alone!”

But Olly doesn’t finish there…

“I follow-up with a favourite of mine: I soak organic oats and chia seeds in near-boiling water and then add almond milk to make a porridge. Topped with walnut pieces, half a banana, cinnamon and a lot of maple syrup. Maybe not gourmet, but good, pure post training fuel for my recovery.”

Pre-Bedtime Backup Plan

While professional athletes stick to tight schedules where recovery, and the food they eat, is prescribed to the nth degree, for weekend warriors and amateur adventurers, it’s a different story…

Fitting training around time sheets and life’s responsibilities, it’s easy to find yourself staring at the static bike or squat rack late into the evenings. Training late is tough, but so too is ensuring we take in enough food to recover properly.

Martin MacDonald, a Clinical Performance Nutritionist and CEO of Mac-Nutrition Uni shared with us his bedtime backup plan:

“It’s usually after dinner before I get to train, and with an early start again tomorrow I need to take in a decent amount of protein — preferably something that releases slowly. Casein protein found in dairy is released, and absorbed, slower by the body which is ideal for overnight and helps me recover.”

So what’s Martin’s go-to recovery meal?

“My go-to midnight-meal is Greek yoghurt with flavoured whey. I add cashew nuts for fat and berries too. It must be real Greek yoghurt though, as it’s super-high in casein — around three times more than Greek style. Flavoured whey and berries are a sweet treat too, stopping me reaching for the chocolate before bed!”

Post-Training Takeaways

There you have it, a straightforward formula for speedy recovery: a good night’s sleep, low intensity exercise to keep the blood pumping and of course quality and adequate food.

Just remember, for effective recovery you need to follow the basic principles of balanced nutrition. There are obvious commonalities in our experts’ go-to meals — protein (and plenty of it), fibre, fats and carbs…

Why not try the 6 easy recovery recipes mentioned in this article to keep things fresh?

Aled Zachary’s Soaked Oats:

  • Soaked oats with grated apple
  • Low-fat Greek yoghurt
  • Berries, a spoonful of seeds and nut butter

Dan Mitchell’s Complex Carbs Sandwich:

  • Granary bread
  • Pickles, lettuce or other vegetables
  • Lean meat (and lots of it!)

Jonathon Oates’ Cheap and Cheerful Jacket Potato:

  • 1 large baking potato
  • Baked beans
  • Butter
  • Paprika
  • Chilli flakes

Ollie Herman-Taylor’s Simple Scrambled Egg and Sardines:

  • Whole eggs
  • Sardines in olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice
  • Salsa on the side

Ollie Herman-Taylor’s Almond Milk Porridge:

  • Oats slowly simmered in water, then add almond milk
  • Seeds and chopped nuts
  • Maple syrup and a sprinkle of cinnamon
  • Banana

Martin MacDonald’s Midnight Casein Feast:

  • Real Greek yoghurt
  • Protein powder (pick your flavour!)
  • Cashew nuts
  • A handful of berries