Evening games may be great for television viewing figures but they offer athletes some difficult challenges in terms of rest and recovery. With less than 48 hours between games, aggressive recovery strategies are vital. From a nutrition point of view, this means rehydrating and eating some protein with carbohydrate as soon as possible after the game.
Sports nutrition products such as protein shakes and carbohydrate bars are used to ensure recovery starts within 30 minutes of finishing the game. Flavour fatigue is a real issue with these products and sponsorship constraints limit the products available. On the other hand, they provide an excellent solution to the issue of convenience when real food isn’t available. In an ideal world, nutrients would be obtained from eating whole foods however, this is just not practical when media commitments, recovery sessions and ice baths need to be completed before leaving the ground to head back to the village. After a 7pm game, I would usually settle down in the athletes dining hall to eat at 9.30pm.
If you’re familiar with squeezing in your daily fitness session late in the evening, after a hard day at work, you may also be familiar with the difficulty in eating this late at night. Even without the hassle of cooking the meal myself, I would much rather slope off to bed than try and eat. After high intensity exercise I always struggle to tolerate food. I never feel hungry, I don’t crave anything and the thought of sitting down at a table pushing a bit of spaghetti or pasta around the plate just doesn’t appeal.
Food for me provides a function. I look at foods in terms of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. I’ve learnt which foods work best for me and which foods carry out important functions in terms of recovery. There are some simple and well established nutrition guidelines to follow in these circumstances but the art of being an athlete or indeed nutritionist is to understand how these are tailored to the individual.
The bottom line when it comes to eating after exercise in the evening is that some food is better than no food. I always try and eat the best foods available to me, with the exception of after a late game. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be tucking into chicken nuggets and chips but I will stick to my traditional comfort foods that still offer some important nutrients.
My post game meal often involves peanut butter on toast, yoghurt with fruit and cereal. If I have a slightly easier game I would go for grilled chicken, roast vegetables and couscous. It’s not ground-breaking but it does the job and keeps a smile on my face!