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Thomas Doering1, Peter Reaburn1, Gregory Cox2,3 and David Jenkins4

1CQUniversity, 2Australian Institute of Sport, 3Triathlon Australia,  4University of Queensland.

In late 2014, and early 2015, an online survey was sent out to all Triathlon Australia members. This survey was designed to see what triathletes know about recovery nutrition strategies post-exercise, and what they actually consume in a typical post-exercise meal. Now, the results are in!

The Research

182 triathletes (Males = 101; Females = 81) completed our online survey which was distributed via Triathlon Australia. Knowledge of post-exercise sport nutrition recommendations for protein (20-25 grams following exercise) and carbohydrate intake (1.0-1.2 grams/kg) were assessed among all triathletes who participated, and within sub-groups (masters, ≥50 years; middle age groups (middle AG), 31-49 years; and younger triathletes, ≤30 years). We also assessed actual nutritional practices of younger versus masters triathletes by having the athletes complete a dietary recall of a typical post-exercise meal (a recollection of foods consumed).


The Results

As a whole, ~45% of all triathletes answered ‘I don’t know’ when asked to identify the above recommended post-exercise recommendations for carbohydrate and protein intake. When broken into sub-categories, only 17% of the younger triathletes, 25% of middle AG triathletes, and 31% of the masters triathletes knew the correct amount of carbohydrate needed after exercise to maximise muscle refuelling (1.0-1.2 grams/kg/hour). When it came to the amount of protein needed after exercise, only 22% of the younger triathletes, 17% of middle AG triathletes, and 25% of the over 50 year old triathletes knew the correct answer (20-25 grams). Figure 1 below displays this distribution of knowledge.

However, of even greater concern was the actual carbohydrate and protein intakes of the older triathletes during the post exercise period. The over 50 year-old triathletes took in significantly less carbohydrate (0.7±0.4 g/kg) than the younger triathletes (1.1±0.6 g/kg) post-exercise. Critically, the amount of carbohydrate intake in the older athletes was well below recommended amounts (recommended = red line). Moreover, the older triathletes took in significantly less protein than the younger triathletes (0.3±0.2 g/kg vs. 0.4±0.2 g/kg). This is somewhat alarming as it appears that  older inactive people require more protein after exercise than younger athletes (recommended = red line).



Figure 1: Percentage of correct responses by masters, middle age-group, and younger triathletes when asked to identify the amount of carbohydrate and protein recommended after exercise to facilitate recovery. 


Figure 2: Average carbohydrate and protein intakes of masters and younger triathletes. Red lines represent the minimum recommended intakes. Adapted from Doering, Reaburn, Cox & Jenkins (2015), International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism (In Press).

 So What?

Our results suggest that regardless of age, triathletes have little knowledge of the recommended post-exercise nutritional guidelines. However, this lack of knowledge does not appear to compromise the post-exercise nutritional practices of younger triathletes, i.e., they still eat adequately after exercise. In contrast, our data suggest masters triathletes are not consuming enough carbohydrate after training. This may compromise subsequent exercise training, particularly if high intensity (i.e., time trials, high intensity interval training), and/or if this is a second session for the day. This data also suggest masters triathletes consume post-exercise protein doses that may not be high enough to maximize muscle recovery in the older athlete.

For examples of food choices that may be adequate to refuel and repair your muscles post-exercise, see the AIS recovery nutrition factsheet:

Thank you to all who participated in this research!