Precovery is a term that has been in use in clinical settings, for example in the context of surgery or chemotherapy. Many recovery protocols have contributed to early recovery, but their focus is largely on the immediate post-exercise period. In contrast to such recovery protocols, precovery is a proactive approach. It moves away from the idea that you support recovery with specific tools (in this case foods) after an intervention. Precovery that is the idea that you support your body already before the stress (= workout) through nutrient intake. This preparation makes your body less vulnerable. Precovery in sports that’s preparing the body for the stress that comes with training, it means laying the foundation for a successful recovery – already before exercise.
The concept of precovery may seem strange but there are many examples that demonstrate how important precovery is. It happens that athletes get injured, sometimes it’s bone, sometimes it’s muscle. Athletes push their body to the limit. When they’re injured, everyone focuses on the injury: torn muscle, broken bone, torn ligament, soreness. Many are unaware of the fact that poor recovery increases the risk for injuries. Training causes muscle damage, inflammation, and so called oxidative stress. With proper nutrition we can minimize these stressors; with poor nutrition, on the other hand, our body is more vulnerable. Injuries, in many cases are only the result or consequence of something that has built up, something that has built up due to improper nutrition. Although it’s a widespread belief that a good training has to hurt, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. In contrast, when the pain becomes too much, our body gets vulnerable, i.e. injury occurs. That said, many injuries are often a result of poor nutrition.
We know from numerous studies that good recovery benefits your next training session and reduces oxidative stress (less time in catabolic state, better glycogen replenishment). We know from numerous studies that good training nutrition improves your training quality (e.g by delaying fatigue).
But it’s important to pay attention to the food you eat around your workouts and during the day as well. Why? Athletes have high nutrient needs, some of these nutrients have anti-inflammatory properties, others are antioxidants. And you need your servings of macronutrients to support recovery and other metabolic processes. Our body needs a daily supply of many nutrients: minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, protein. Many of these nutrients are essential, i.e. our body doesn’t produce these. We need to ingest them through our diet. If an athlete fails to meet these needs, the body will struggle and it will become more susceptible to injury.
It's more than quantity. Why quality matters
You often hear athletes argue: “I do a lot of sport, so it doesn’t matter what I eat. I only need to meet the calories.” While many think so, it’s not correct. (Highly) Processed foods, take-away-foods, pre-packed foods – all of them are pro-inflammatory. Also, while these foods are often really energy dense (high fat foods), they have poor nutrient quality (refined sugars) and are high in salt. That’s not what precovery stands for. On the long run, a diet built around these low quality foods compromises immune health, increases information and ultimately impairs performance.
Precovery requires you to look for the right quality in your meals. Vegetables, fruits, grains, unsaturated fatty acids, fatty fish, lean meat, plant protein, legumes, phytonutrients, home cooked meals, high fibre foods. That’s what precovery is about.