Many thanks for all of the nutrition advice recently posted in your web column. I had a couple of follow-up questions that I hoped you could help me with. What should my basic caloric intake be on the days that I do not train or ride, and what should comprise the majority of these calories? I am currently at 145 lb. and want to maintain this weight.
Your questions bring up the important consideration of nutritional recovery on rest or very light training days. On rest days most endurance athletes are concerned about not overeating, and adjusting to a drop in calorie requirements, particularly if their goal is to maintain or drop some weight. This can create a dilemma as the purpose of your recovery day is to replenish your body fuel stores and promote rest and repair. Just as you often have a light or rest day planned within your weekly training schedule, you will also have recovery weeks planned within your training program.
First, let’s address the nutritional focus of a recovery day within a training cycle, whether it be an endurance week or build week. This day provides a welcome relief from longer and more intense training days. Of course nutritional recovery is a daily process when you train, that takes place from one training session to the next. Recovery nutrition is focused on refueling your muscle and liver of their expended carbohydrate energy, replenishing fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat, manufacturing new proteins and cells, and providing your body with the proper nutrients to maintain a healthy immune system. As the February 16th nutrition column from “Basic Eating for Basic Training” indicates, your nutritional intake should match your training volume and intensity.
However, despite your best efforts to consume enough food and specifically carbohydrate to match your training from day to day, gradual glycogen depletion can occur over a few days time, and even a few weeks. So, a recovery day within your training week is a time to “catch-up” nutritionally. Gauge your recovery and energy levels in anticipation of a rest day. If it has been a tough week of training, under-eating is not recommended. If your recovery has been good, still don’t under-eat, as this recovery day allows you to prepare your body fuel stores for the training days ahead. Use your recovery day to replete your energy stores. Endurance athletes who want to lose weight can restrict calories at 300 to 500 daily on heavier training days.
Consider the following nutritional recommendations for your recovery days.
Your basic energy needs for no activity whatsoever would be at 12 to 14 calories per pound of your body weight. It is recommended that you do not go below this calorie level even if you want to lose weight during this part of the season. Aim for the higher end of the range if you are at an appropriate weight for this time of the season and have a desk job with little planned activity for that day. If your rest day includes 45 to 60 minutes of very easy training, aim for 15 to 17 calories per pound of body weight.
Filling up your muscle stores with glycogen is one of the primary nutritional goals of a rest or recovery day. Because your energy needs may are not especially high, this often translates into a day of high carbohydrate eating. But carbohydrate recovery is not about percentages, as much a sit is about the total grams of carbohydrate consumed. On days of no or little training activity, aim for 2.25 to 3 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. If you do the math, restricting calories in hopes of losing weight could result in too few grams of carbohydrate being consumed for an adequate nutritional recovery.
Protein is also an important part of your nutritional recovery. Aim for 0.5 to 0.6 grams per pound of weight on light training days or recovery days. This amount of protein is easily consumed with well-balanced eating. Fats can be kept to low levels on these recovery days to make room for carbohydrate and protein calories, with small portions spaced out at meals for flavor and satiety.
While replacing sweat losses on a recovery day is not an issue or fairly simply, make sure that you focus on daily hydration. Urine should be very pale yellow, indicating adequate hydration. Salty sweaters can include some sodium in their diet (if there are no blood pressure concerns), and plenty of fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products provide minerals and electrolytes. Though you may have decreased energy needs on rest days, hunger can strike due to the previous days of heavier training. You may also just be used to eating more food and find the portions and amounts require some adjusting. Space your meals out with some between meal snacks that provide carbohydrate choices like yogurt and fresh fruit to control hunger.
Hunger is also a sign that your body needs fuel, so make sure that you do eat enough to recover. Of course your training program will also incorporate recovery weeks, during which you experience several days of reduced training. One of the challenges of a recovery week is taking your nutritional in take down a notch for several days in a row and adjusting to the reduced amount of food. Having a mix of meals and snacks that allows you to eat 5 to 6 times daily should help control hunger. Lighter training days (about one hour) require 15 to 17 calories per pound, and 2.5 to 3 g of carbohydrate perpound. Calories can increase to 18 to 21 calorie per pound for training up to 90 minutes, and 3 to 4 g carbohydrate per pound. Recovery weeks also free up some time normally devoted to training. This can be a good week to try some new foods and recipes that can provide some variety to your diet in the harder training weeks ahead.
Best of luck,
Monique Ryan, MS, RD, LDN is a nationally recognized nutritionist with over twenty-two years of experience and is owner of Personal Nutrition Designs, a Chicago based nutrition consulting company that provides nutrition programs for endurance athletes across North America. Monique consults with the Chicago Fire Soccer Team, and was the nutritionist for Saturn Cycling from 1994 to 2000. She has also consulted with the Volvo-Cannondale Mountain Bike Team, the Gary Fisher Mountain Bike Team, and the Rollerblade Racing Team. Monique has consulted with USA Cycling, and was a member of the Performance Enhancement Team for the Women’s Road Team leading to the 2004 Athens Olympics. She has also provided nutrition consultation services to USA Triathlon for coaching clinics, athlete clinics, and for the resident athlete team and was a member of the USAT Performance Enhancement Team for the 2004 Athens Olympics. Monique is the author of “SportsNutrition for Endurance Athletes,” 2nd edition (March 2007), from VeloPress,which provides sports specific nutrition for road cycling, mountain biking, running, triathlon, swimming, rowing, and adventure racing. She is also author of “PerformanceNutrition for Winter Sports” (PeakSports Press), “Performance Nutritionfor Team Sports” (PeakSports Press), and “Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition. Monique is a regular contributor to VeloNews, Inside Triathlon, Outside, and ACE Fitness Matters. Please send your questions to email@example.com.