One of the areas that athletes tend to neglect is in regards to recovery, specifically the refueling of the body as soon as possible after each and every workout. Are you guilty of this as well? If so, that’s really unfortunate because it’s absolutely one of the most important things that you can do to improve your chances of success come race day. In fact, I honestly believe that properly refueling your body immediately after all your training sessions is as important as anything you did in the actual workout.
When you give your body what it needs as soon as possible after exercise it will respond wonderfully and you benefit tremendously. You recover and rebuild faster, and your body is able to store more and more of a premium, ready-to-use fuel known as muscle glycogen. The bottom line is that you can really give yourself a major advantage come race day if you’ll take the time to put some quality fuel back in your body as soon as possible after all your workouts leading up to the race.
If you’re at all serious about performing better in your racing AND staying healthier, here’s a saying you need to live by – “Once you’ve finished training, you’re still not finished with training!”
Here’s what I mean:
You must attend as much to recovery as you do to active exercise if you expect to reap the benefits of hard training. In other words, how well you recover today will be a huge factor in how well you perform tomorrow.
And you know what? It’s really simple to maximize your recovery and reap all the rewards that come from that. Here are the two primary things you need to do:
- Consume 30-60 grams of quality carbohydrates within the first 30 minutes after each workout
- Consume 10-30 grams protein, preferably whey protein, during that time as well
Let’s take a brief look at each of those components, beginning with carbohydrate replenishment. When you begin a workout or race the first fuel your body will use is stored carbohydrate, which is known as muscle glycogen. There is a finite amount of this premium fuel available in your body but its importance can’t be overstated. In fact, several studies have shown that the pre-exercise muscle glycogen level is the most important energy determinant for exercise performance. In other words, the athlete who has more of this readily available fuel in their body has a definite advantage. To have a good race or workout, you need to start with full load of muscle-stored glycogen.
The question is how can you get your body to store as much of it as it possibly can? The first way is through training, which increases both muscle glycogen storage capacity and how efficiently your body uses it. The second way is to replenish the body with carbohydrates as soon as possible after exercise, which is when the body is most receptive to taking those carbs, converting them into glycogen, and storing them in the muscles. Along with insulin, an enzyme known as glycogen synthase drives carbohydrates into glycogen stores and protein into muscle cells. Unfortunately, the “life span” of glycogen synthase is relatively short, peaking in the 0-30 minutes after exercise then declining substantially for the next 90 minutes. Needless to say, to store as much glycogen as possible it’s important to take advantage of the glycogen synthase enzyme when it’s most active.
Here’s why all this is so important to you as an athlete:
- The less-fit athlete and the one who HAS NOT been putting some carbs back in their body shortly after exercise sessions have been completed has very limited amounts of muscle glycogen available, perhaps as little as 10-15 minutes worth.
- The fit athlete and the one who HAS been consistently refueling their body with carbohydrates immediately after exercise can build up a nice 60-90 reservoir of this premium, ready-to-use fuel.
Which would you rather have when the gun goes off – 15 minutes of on-board fuel or 90 minutes worth? The answer should be pretty obvious.
As soon as possible after you finish your workout, before you get into the shower or before you get horizontal, consume approximately 30-60 grams of high quality complex carbohydrates.
Now let’s look at protein. You see, while carbohydrate intake promotes many aspects of post-exercise recovery, it can’t do the job alone; you need protein as well. The primary reason for consuming protein is that it provides the raw materials needed to rebuild stressed muscles. Protein also plays a key role in how well the body stores glycogen. Finally, protein is crucial for maintaining a strong immune system.
Of all the protein sources available whey protein is considered the ideal protein for recovery. It’s the fastest acting protein source and contains the highest percentage of essential amino acids, the protein “building blocks” that your body does not manufacture and must obtain from dietary sources. Whey protein is also rich in other amino acids that have a direct impact on strengthening your immune system.
So for rebuilding the muscle tissue, for maximizing how much glycogen your body can store, and to build a strong immune system don’t forget to consume protein, preferably whey protein, after your workouts.
After your workouts, consume 10-30 grams of protein, preferably whey, along with your complex carbohydrates.
You can use high quality solid food to refuel your body after your workouts. Breads, pasta, fruits, and cereal are all good carbohydrate choices. For protein, you can eat most any kind of meat – chicken, beef, fish – as well as cheese and eggs. Just as an example, a sandwich – using organic bread, organic fruit spread, and healthy peanut butter (the kind where the oil floats on top of the jar) – is a pretty darn good post-workout recovery meal. A bread roll, a piece of fruit, and a serving of cottage cheese is another good post-workout meal choice.
If you’re unable or uninterested in making a full-fledged meal after your workout, consider using Recoverite, a delicious and easy to make carb/protein powdered drink mix. Recoverite contains an ideal 3:1 ratio of quality complex carbohydrates and whey protein so it takes the guesswork out of post-workout recovery. Mix a couple of scoops with water, drink, you’re done… simple. You’ve just put the best “finishing touches” on your workout that you possibly could, and you’ve given your body a great head start on tomorrow’s workout.
Athletic performance improvement depends on successive, incremental exercise sessions that stimulate muscular and cardiovascular adaptation followed by a recovery period in which the body rebuilds itself slightly more fit than before. Thus, the real gain of exercise occurs during recovery, but only in the presence of adequate rest and optimal nutritional support. Remember, how well you recover today will greatly determine your performance tomorrow. Athletes who attend to the recovery process as much as they do to active training are way ahead of the game and will no doubt enjoy increased performance.
Steve Born is a technical advisor for E-CAPS with over a decade of involvement in the health food industry. He has worked with hundreds of athletes – ranging from the recreational athlete to world-class professional athlete – regarding their supplement/fueling program. Steve is a three-time RAAM finisher, the 1994 Furnace Creek 508 Champion, 1999 runner-up, the only cyclist in history to complete a Double Furnace Creek 508, and is the holder of two Ultra Marathon Cycling records. In February 2004 Steve was inducted into the Ultra Marathon Cycling Hall of Fame.
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