Practical Nutritional Recovery Strategies During Competition By Ollie Turner

Ollie Turner, PhD Student and Performance Nutritionist at the English Institute of Sport and England Squash explains the nutritional strategies a professional player could employ at competition to fuel those lung busting rallies.

Team sports such as rugby and football often have 3-7 days in-between competitive matches to recover and refuel for the next match. However, squash proudly embraces its physical challenge with professional players expected to compete 6-48 hours following their previous match. When considering the high intensity nature of squash and the physical demands it imposes, maintaining peak performance can be difficult for players. This article aims to highlight what a player can do nutritionally to give them the best chance of maintaining that peak performance following a hard match.

An optimal nutritional recovery strategy can be split into four key areas… repair, repel, refuel and rehydrate. These are all intertwined and should be completed synergistically as if one is neglected then the other areas will be compromised.

Repair

There are two stages to muscle damage… that achy feeling after exercise that many squash players will be familiar with. The first involves little microtears in the muscle. The lunging movements which characterise squash can cause more muscle damage than normal, so this heightens the demand to repair the muscle.

Research has shown that protein is the macronutrient with the capabilities of repairing these microtears, so players will want to consume a protein source immediately post exercise. This in theory should reduce fatigue and allow for more forceful muscle contractions.

A player would want roughly 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass. Therefore a 60kg player would want 24 grams and an 80kg player, 32 grams. It’s unlikely that players will have the capabilities to have food immediately post-match and many cannot stomach a steak as strenuous high intensity exercise reduces appetite. Therefore, appropriate options could be sports recovery shakes, protein bars, milk or flavoured milk (i.e. chocolate). It’s important that if an athlete uses any supplement, they follow anti-doping procedures and make sure the supplement is informed sport certified.

Repel

The second stage to muscle damage is the onset of inflammatory cells called reactive oxidant species. An acute dose of polyphenols has been shown to negate these inflammatory cells and increase muscle contraction force in the hours following a hard exercise bout.

Polyphenols reduce the sensations of muscle soreness and therefore a player could theoretically move faster around the court in following matches. Polyphenols are found in a variety of foods but most commonly berries and cherries. The acute dose required equates to roughly 100 cherries which would be unrealistic to consume immediately post-match. Subsequently, many sport supplement companies have developed concentrated gels for convenience for athletes.

Refuel

Professional players sustain heart rates of above 180 bpm throughout match play. At these intensities, the body predominantly uses carbohydrate as a fuel. Carbohydrate is stored in the muscle as something called glycogen. If you think of the muscle as a fuel tank, players will be able to store approximately 60 – 90 minutes’ worth of high intensity fuel in the muscle. Therefore, if a player has a long match, it imposes huge refuelling demands as their glycogen stores may be fully depleted.

Research has shown that glycogen content is increased if the same carbohydrate source is consumed immediately post exercise in comparison to waiting for two hours. It’s almost as if the body knows it is low on fuel and wants to refuel! High glycaemic index carbohydrates (sugars) are preferred post exercise as the body can store it in the muscle quicker due to it not having to be broken down as much.

Examples of appropriate high glycaemic carbohydrates post exercise are ones found in recovery shakes, ripe bananas, flavoured milk, energy gels, sports drinks and energy balls (consisting of dates and honey among other things).

To fully refuel the muscle post exercise, you want to consume 1 – 1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body mass for four hours (i.e. this amount post-match, + 1 hour, + 2 hours and +3 hours) before resuming normal eating practice. Therefore, a 60 kg player would require 60g – 72g of carbohydrate every hour and an 80kg player would require 80g – 96g every hour. This may seem like a lot of carbohydrate but will go a long way towards fully refuelling the muscle and will take the pressure off the following match day.

Rehydrate

Often forgotten but rehydration plays a massive role in the recovery process.

Dehydration reduces blood volume and from a recovery aspect, nutrients such as protein and carbohydrate are transported in the blood, so if blood flow is compromised then the recovery process won’t be as efficient. Therefore, a suitable strategy is for players to weigh themselves before and after their match and consume 1.5 x the weight lost in litres of fluid.

Players should also aim to consume electrolytes (sodium, potassium and magnesium) with their fluid as these are lost during exercise and help retain the fluid consumed. Electrolytes can be consumed from electrolyte tablets, recovery shakes, sports drinks, milk and bananas to name a few.

UNSQUASHABLE
INSPIRED BY JAHANGIR KHAN
USED BY OLLIE TURNER
MADE TO WIN

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