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Fight Afternoon Fatigue

By Joanna K Chodorowska

wrapsIn the past few weeks, many of my clients have been coming to me to help with their afternoon fatigue or the lack of recovery from training. They just cannot seem to get it all done in one week, and it must be related to their nutrition. And it usually is a quick fix, which is something everyone can benefit from regardless of how often you train and how serious you are about the sport.

My first rule of thumb is to eat a balanced meal every three hours, starting with breakfast within an hour of waking up. If you train first thing in the morning, chances are you have plenty of glycogen stored up that you can use to stay moving for a good 45 minutes or so before you need to add some more fuel to your body. The key then is to get that recovery meal in 30 minutes after you finish.

What is a balanced meal? This will be different for everyone, based on your palate and your choice of diet. A balanced meal for most people is some high quality protein (fish, chicken, egg whites, etc.), high quality carbohydrate (whole grains, root vegetables, beans, fruit, etc.), vegetables (green leafy vegetables, green vegetables and colored vegetables) and some fat (nuts, seeds, oils, etc.). The proportions may vary for each person, but essentially each meal will be about the same make-up throughout the day.

Some examples you may want to try:

  • Breakfast burrito – rice wrap with ½ cup black beans, scrambled eggs (1 yolk, 2 whites), 1 oz lowfat cheese (optional) and ½ cup zucchini chopped (cooked or raw) with a side of salsa.
  • Fruit and veggie smoothie – ½ cup apple cider and water, ½ cup fruit (apple, pear, berries or banana), 2 tbsp vegan protein powder with hemp seeds, 1 leaf (or more) of kale or swiss chard or handful of spinach, ½ inch gingerroot, ½ juice of 1 lemon, mint (optional)
  • Vegetable Potpourri – throw all kinds of chopped greens (arugula, romaine, spring mix, kale, etc) into a bowl (1-2 cups), add broccoli, cabbage, peppers, zucchini or green beans, cooked or raw beets sliced, ½ orange sliced or a handful of raisins, 1 tsp nuts or seeds, miso vinaigrette dressing. Then add 3 ounces your favorite protein (tuna, salmon, chicken, beans), and ½ cup baked sweet potatoes, rice or quinoa.

I mentioned the importance of the recovery meal. A recovery meal will look very similar to the balanced meal. In fact, that is where it is imperative to get all those nutrients in those balanced meal combinations so you can recover quicker! This is also where the need for your green and leafy green vegetables enters the picture.

Why so many greens? For one, green vegetables have bioavailable calcium and magnesium – they help muscles to relax. Green veggies also have phytonutrients which help to fight off free radicals we produce when training or are under stress (and yes, training does produce some stress). Green vegetables also have more protein in them which helps with recovery.

Lastly, green vegetables are alkalizing which means you will recover faster when the body is less acidic. The body can eliminate toxins easier with more greens, as they help give the liver a boost. If you only eat your vegetables once a day, I suggest you get them in that recovery meal for the biggest benefit.

Let’s take another look at timing. If you do any type of exercise or training first thing in morning, you should plan to eat your recovery meal within 30 minutes of finishing. Then you will eat every 3 hours from then on until 2 hours before bed. Any other workouts you do throughout the day will typically fall into those 3-hour windows. You should exercise at least two hours after eating, and consume your recovery meal 30-60 minutes after completing the workout. The clients I have worked with that follow this plan and eat balanced meals throughout the day have so much energy into the afternoon and evening that they wonder why they didn’t come see me sooner.

Do not take your regular eating schedule for granted. Eat regularly so you can train more effectively and stop sleeping at your desk in the afternoon.

Joanna K Chodorowska, BA, NC is a sport nutritionist, swim instructor, triathlete coach and competitive triathlete. She is the founder of Nutrition in Motion,specializing in personalized nutrition programs for healthy minded triathletes. She works with real foods and incorporates healthier options as a means to gain better health, strength and fitness, and to help people get started on a lifelong healthy meal plan. Please visit for more information.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.