Author: Steve Born
Can you relate to this? You are finishing a really hard workout and the predominant thought in your mind is “man, I am going to relax for a good, long time.” So once the workout’s done, that’s EXACTLY what you do. I know I’ve done that myself far too often.
The problem with the above scenario is that you’re not giving your body a fighting chance to recover quickly and efficiently. We’ve all heard about that “window of opportunity” that’s present immediately after a workout, the time the athlete needs to take advantage of to help the body in “refilling the tank.” Your body will adapt to the training you’re putting it through by storing more and more glycogen, its premium fuel, in the muscles. This adaptation process is kind of like the body saying, “if Steve’s going to put me through another workout tomorrow, I’m going to be better prepared. I’m going to have a better reservoir of readily available fuel.”
Another area that is necessary to remember is in regards to immunity. One of the benefits, perhaps the primary benefit, of exercise is that it aids in building a strong immune system. However, in order to take advantage of this benefit, the athlete needs to provide nutrient support to the body right after a workout, when the immune system is vulnerable. It makes sense to replenish essential, immune system enhancing nutrients shortly after a workout, when the body’s supplies have been depleted or exhausted. Unfortunately, far too many athletes don’t and wonder why they continue to have poor performances or, even worse, continue to get sick.
That’s why this article is so important. It helps answer the questions about enhancing your recovery and gives guidelines of what to use, when to use it, and how much to use. When you follow these guidelines you’re giving your body the support it needs so that it can do what you want it to do in your next training session or race.
Once you’ve finished training, you’re still not finished with training! How well you recover today will be a huge factor in how well you perform tomorrow. Exercise creates physiological stress; you become weak and depleted after a good workout. It is during recovery that your body rebuilds itself. Your body responds to the stress of training by increasing its stress adaptation, commonly called “fitness,” but only when you have all recovery components in place. Repeated, incremental sessions of exercise and properly supported recovery result in increased performance ability and improved overall health. Exercise that is either overdone or under supported by a lack of proper recovery yields negative results, such as injury, chronic fatigue, soreness, overuse syndrome, poor health, and the like. You must attend as much to recovery as you do to active exercise if you expect to reap the benefits of hard training.
Recovery includes many factors, including rest, stretching, muscle stimulation, and sleep, but we will limit our present discussion to the nutritional aspects. This article will cover the four essential nutritional areas of recovery: the two macronutrients, carbohydrates and protein; the micronutrients, which include vitamins, minerals, and other ancillaries such as antioxidants; and rehydration.
Technically, of course, water has no nutrient value, but it’s essential for performance and recovery and well worth a couple of paragraphs here. The normal course of recovery nutrition intake will meet most hydration needs, but it is possible for an athlete to suffer from chronic dehydration. In the article on hydration (“Hydration: What You Need To Know”) we caution against excess fluid intake, a more common problem than dehydration, especially among the mass of recreational and fitness athletes. Top level competitors, however, tend to underhydrate during races.
As a rule of thumb, you want to finish a workout with not more than about 2% body weight loss, and certainly no weight gain. Greater than 2% body weight reduction from fluid loss signals performance decline. For example, if you go out at 72.5 kg and return several hours later at under 70, you’re probably a bit dehydrated, but that would not be an unusual deficit after a hard workout or race. (Obviously, a steady, reliable scale is important here.) At a pint a pound, four pounds lost means you need to drink at least a good 1.5 – 2 liters of fluids in the next few hours. That’s fairly easy, and much of the fluid intake will come in the normal course of nutritional replenishment anyway.
QUICK REPLENISHMENT OF CARBOHYDRATES
Now let’s consider carbohydrate replenishment, the most obvious nutritional issue caused by endurance exercise. When you know the mechanism of carbohydrate replenishment, you can very effectively dial in your energy recovery program, so let’s briefly review your energy use and restoration cycle.
The primary fuel for the first 90-120 or so minutes of exercise is stored carbohydrate in the form of muscle glycogen. When it’s gone, your body switches over to burning fat reserves along with carbohydrates and protein consumed during exercise. Endurance training increases both muscle glycogen storage capacity and utilization efficiency. A big part of that training is the re-supply after depletion. Several studies have shown that your pre-exercise muscle glycogen level is the most important energy determinant for exercise performance. To have a good race or workout, you need to start with full load of muscle-stored glycogen.
That’s why it’s so important to start replenishing carbohydrates very soon after exercise, to take advantage of the highest glycogen synthase (the enzyme that controls glycogen storage) activity, which occurs immediately after exercise, when muscle glycogen is depleted. Glycogen synthesis from carbohydrate intake takes place most rapidly the first hour after exercise and occurs at lower levels for up to 4-6 hours longer. Moreover, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin demonstrated that glycogen synthesis is highest when subjects were given carbohydrate immediately after exercise. So depletion plus dietary carbohydrate yields the maximum glycogen resupply. (Chromium, discussed below, further enhances glycogen resupply.)
Complex carbohydrate (polysaccharides, such as maltodextrin) is your fuel of choice for glycogen replenishment. Simple sugars (mono- and disaccharides) taken immediately after exercise have the advantage of high glycemic index (GI), indicating rapid metabolism, but the disadvantage of being relatively calorie-poor per volume and therefore unlikely to provide adequate carbohydrate nutrition without inciting digestive issues. (Other articles in this guide discuss additional problems associated with simple sugars in endurance exercise.) On the other hand, complex carbs offer high GI, plus ease of digestion and high caloric impact.
HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
Dr. Michael Colgan, in his book Optimal Sports Nutrition – Your Competitive Edge [Advanced Research Press, New York, 1993 – pg 102], suggests consuming 225 grams of complex carbohydrates within 2-4 hours post-exercise. More than that will end up as body fat stores. Other research studies suggest that on average 650 total grams of carbohydrate is about all the carbohydrate volume that the body can regenerate into muscle glycogen stores each day. The table below shows the range when body weight and length of training are specified. The carbohydrate amount (in grams) includes everything pre-, during, and post-workout. To convert to caloric amounts, remember that one gram of carbohydrate yields four calories of energy. For example, Colgan’s 225-gram recommendation equals 900 calories.
|Hours of Training
For enhanced recovery, consume up to 100 grams of complex carbohydrates in the first hour, and the balance in the next three hours. For a daily total, to complete the muscle glycogen re-synthesis picture, aim for what the above chart suggests. A 70 kg athlete doing a two-hour workout will want to consume about 500 grams (2000 calories) of complex carbs that day: 100 grams in the first hour post-exercise, another 125 grams in the next three hours, and 275 grams during the remainder of the day, including during-exercise consumption. If you just want to play the averages, aim for a daily total of 650 grams, or about 2500-2600 calories from carbohydrates.
CARBOHYDRATES, PROTEIN, and RECOVERY
By taking in ample amounts of carbohydrate immediately after training and continuing for the next few hours, athletes can get a head start on refueling their muscles after workouts. Additionally, they will also tip the scales in the direction of protein synthesis instead of protein catabolism (breakdown). In other words, ample carbohydrates are essential in rebuilding muscle cells as well as restoring muscle glycogen. Studies suggest that the carbohydrate inflow gives the muscle cells the necessary fuel to begin the rebuilding process. Using the energy derived from carbohydrates, the muscles absorb amino acids from the bloodstream, helping initiate protein synthesis.
Carbohydrates also boost the production and release of insulin from the pancreas. Insulin is an anabolic (tissue-building) hormone that has a profound positive impact on protein synthesis in muscles, and it also tends to suppress protein breakdown. A University of Texas study found plasma insulin values three to eight times higher post-workout for subjects ingesting carbohydrates versus placebo.
THE BENEFITS OF PROTEIN, WHEY IN PARTICULAR
While carbohydrate intake promotes many aspects of post-exercise recovery, it can’t do the job alone. We need protein, also, so we will now look at some important reasons to include protein in recovery nutrition. For instance, in the insulin production research just mentioned, studies showed that protein, when combined with carbohydrates, almost doubled the insulin response. This alone makes it logical to include some protein along with your complex carbohydrate. A ratio of 3:1 or 4:1 (carbohydrate to protein) is a good recommendation.
Obviously, we need protein to rebuild stressed muscles. Endurance athletes often think that protein intake is for the power-lifting crowd, but your body doesn’t agree with that! True, intense weight training places a different kind of stress on muscles than endurance exercise, but muscle breakdown occurs all the same, and endurance athletes need far more protein than a standard diet provides.
Whey protein is the most bio-available of all proteins and is considered the premium protein for use after workouts to enhance the recovery process. Whey protein has the highest percentage of essential amino acids, the protein building blocks that your body does not manufacture and must be obtained from dietary sources. Moreover, 25% of the essential amino acid component comes from the three most important amino acids for muscle tissue repair, the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Whey protein is also rich in two other highly beneficial amino acids, methionine and cysteine. These two nutrients stimulate the natural production of glutathione, one of the body’s most powerful antioxidants. Endurance exercise increases free-radical production, so endurance athletes need extra antioxidant protection. Glutathione also supports immune system and liver functions.
Short four-amino acid chains known as quadripeptides constitute another key component of whey protein. Quadripeptides have a pain-killing (analgesic) effect that can help alleviate the soreness after an intense workout or all-out race effort.
One more point about whey protein: for a supplement, make sure you use whey protein isolate, not whey protein concentrate. Whey protein isolate is virtually lactose and fat free; many lactose-intolerant people can still use whey protein isolate because it contains only a miniscule amount of lactose. Also, whey isolate checks in at a sturdy 90-97% protein by volume, whereas whey concentrate runs only 70-80% protein by weight. Simply put, whey protein isolate is a purer protein, and the best protein you can put into your body after a hard workout.
For more information about protein and its role in recovery, see the article “The Importance of Protein.”
THE MICRONUTRIENTS: VITAMINS, MINERALS, ANTIOXIDANTS
We’ve discussed rehydration, carbs, and protein, so now we will consider the fourth group essential to recovery. We call these the micronutrients, because we need them in very small amounts. Unlike liters of water and hundreds of grams of carbs and up to a hundred grams or more a day of protein, these nutrients function at milligram and sometimes microgram quantities. We can’t in any reasonable time cover all of these individually and discuss their roles in recovery, but we will mention a few key nutrients in this group, and make one general observation. That observation is worth emphasizing, because it’s somewhat counter-intuitive. It has to do with when to take a good multivitamin.
Some athletes might think this way: “I’m setting out on a workout that will involve several hours of intense energy output. It makes sense that I have enough vitamins on board before I start, lest I become depleted and crash, so I’ll take my vitamin supplement before I train.” That reasoning is not quite valid because of the way your body processes nutrients. True, you do need an ample supply of vitamins and minerals to undertake endurance athletics. However, except for electrolytes and vitamin B-6, there’s not much you can add of any useful nature just before a workout. The time to supply your body is actually right after workout, not just before. Your body is most receptive when it’s depleted. Then it runs on the stored nutrients. This is a generality, but it’s very true for most vitamins and minerals. The time to take vitamins is after, not before, a workout or race. You need to resupply, and you also need many micronutrients for the recovery process.
Remember also, that you lose many vitamins and minerals not only through the process of energy production, but also in your sweat. Therefore, you need to have a good multivitamin in your arsenal, one that contains ample amounts of all the key nutrients in readily bioavailable form. Premium Insurance Caps, discussed below, is formulated specifically for endurance athletes; it is your best bet to insure that you get all of what you need to promote the many physiological facets of recovery.
Chromium deserves specific mention because it plays an important role in how well insulin works. Studies suggest athletes who consume chromium polynicotinate (along with ample carbohydrates) within two hours of completion of exercise will experience a 300% increase in the rate of glycogen synthesis compared to no supplementation. If you are not currently using a multivitamin containing chromium, a 200-400 mcg dose of the ChromeMate™ form of chromium is something you should seriously consider.
Antioxidants are another group of micronutrients desperately needed post-workout. Some vitamins (notably C & E) have antioxidant benefits, and other nutrients, described below, offer many further antioxidant benefits. You need a wide spectrum of antioxidants because prolonged exercise produces many different types of free radicals. Each antioxidant has an affinity for different target free radicals. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that any one antioxidant, say vitamin E, will protect you from all the ravages of free-radical production.
A final group of micronutrients includes a variety of biologically active compounds that promote the recovery process. Nutrients in this category include carnosine, glutamine, and glutathione; details on these appear below.
RECOVERITE – THE PERFECT CARB/PROTEIN RECOVERY PRODUCT
If you’ve read this far, you might be asking yourself, “That’s all fine in theory, but how in the world do I get all those nutrients into my body after a workout?” Good question, and we have a good answer, too, because we’ve formulated a premier recovery-specific product—Recoverite—that fits perfectly with our line of ancillary micronutrients. Recoverite is the easy way to take care of serious recovery needs for serious endurance athletes, providing unsurpassed nutritional support to ensure that you obtain the maximum value from your workouts and complete recovery after each training session and race.
Why 3:1 and Why Complex Carbohydrates?
As mentioned earlier, carbohydrate and protein replenishment as soon as possible upon completion of the workout helps you to get the very most out of every minute you’ve put into training. Recoverite supplies carbohydrate and protein in an ideal 3:1 ratio for superior glycogen synthesis and muscle tissue rebuilding, the two main components of recovery. Other recovery formulations on the market typically use a 4:1 ratio. We opt for a larger protein donation, as endurance athletes have habitually poor overall protein intakes. To ensure rapid metabolism and ease of digestion, Recoverite contains only maltodextrin, a complex carbohydrate with a high glycemic index, as its carbohydrate component. Unlike most recovery products that contain simple sugars, maltodextrin provides a large volume of easily digested and rapidly assimilated carbohydrate, vital for preventing stomach distress and promoting full, efficient restoration of muscle glycogen.
Protein and Ancillary Nutrients
Regarding protein, Recoverite contains only whey protein isolate, which we discussed earlier. For rebuilding lean muscle tissue and immune system support, whey protein isolate has no peer; it’s simply the purest form of whey protein available. In addition, each serving of Recoverite also supplies a potent, recovery-boosting three grams of l-glutamine. The benefits of l-glutamine are hard to overstate. It plays a crucial role in preserving and rebuilding lean tissue as well as supporting the immune system following intense exercise. In addition, l-glutamine is vital for gastrointestinal health.
Recoverite supplies other recovery-enhancing nutrients such as ChromeMate™ brand chromium polynicotinate (for maximizing muscle glycogen synthesis) and l-carnosine, a powerful antioxidant and potential anti-aging nutrient. They’re both important nutrients, but l-carnosine deserves special attention as it is one of the most versatile and beneficial nutrients you can put in your body. During exercise it’s a great lactic acid buffer, and afterwards it continues to offer antioxidant and antiglycation properties.
Antiglycation is a process that may play a substantial role in preventing age-related physiological decline. One theory of aging focuses on the damage done to the cells by free radicals, which antioxidants help neutralize. Another theory points to irreversible damage to the body’s proteins caused by a process called glycation. A simple definition of glycation is the cross-linking of proteins and sugars to form nonfunctioning structures in the body. Glycation is cited as an underlying cause of age-related problems including neurologic (brain), vascular (circulatory), and ocular (eye) disorders. Carnosine has been shown to help prevent glycation.
Recoverite also contains a full-spectrum electrolyte profile, which helps replenish depleted essential electrolytes.
Why No Vitamins?
What Recoverite does not contain are inconsequential amounts of vitamins and minerals, commonly found in other formulas. They look good on a label, but have little physiological value. Vitamins and minerals are indeed important in recovery, but in amounts best fulfilled from Premium Insurance Caps, a potent, complete vitamin/mineral supplement (see next section).
We formulated Recoverite to complement Premium Insurance Caps and our other micronutrient supplements. Recovery supplements should replenish basic vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients depleted during exercise, supply significant antioxidant protection, contribute to joint protection, neutralize excess muscle soreness and inflammation, and aid in rebuilding red blood cells.
E-CAPS has the supplements that will perfectly resolve these issues. Together with Recoverite, they provide you everything you need in adequate amounts, and with the flexibility you need to individualize your recovery regimen.
RECOVERY NUTRITION RECOMMMENDATIONS
After extensive training sessions or races the following supplements we suggest the following doses, taken with your post-workout recovery food or fuel. As always, please consider our doses as guidelines only. Each athlete must individualize their own program to meet their particular bodily demands and performance goals. Start with these figures and adjust to your particulars.
Days with workouts less than 90 minutes:
- Premium Insurance Caps: 4 capsules (of the 7 in a packet). Take the other three with food at another time during the day.
- Race Caps Supreme: 1 capsule
- Mito-R Caps: 2 capsules
- Super AO: 1 capsule
- Recoverite: 1-3 servings (2-6 scoops) as determined by you, based on your weight and intensity of your training session.
Days with workouts in excess of 90 minutes:
- Premium Insurance Caps:
Athletes weighing less than 150 pounds or any athlete under the age of 20 – 4 capsules (of the 7 in a packet). Take the other three with food at another time during the day.
Athletes weighing more than 150 pounds – 1 full packet (7 capsules). Split another full packet into two doses taken at other times of the day with food.
- Race Caps Supreme:
Athletes weighing less than 150 pounds or any athlete under the age of 20 – 1 capsule
Athletes weighing more than 150 pounds – 1-2 capsules
- Mito-R Caps: 2 capsules
- Super AO: 2 capsules
- Xobaline: 1 tablet dissolved sublingually (under the tongue)
- Recoverite: 1-3 servings (2-6 scoops) as determined by you, based on your weight and intensity of your training session.
In addition to the Recoverite, whose contents we have already discussed, this regimen also includes:
Premium Insurance Caps to help replenish the body’s stores of essential vitamins and minerals, including the vital antioxidants. There’s no doubt your body will have depleted its stores of vitamins and minerals. Quick replenishment will enhance recovery and protect the immune system. Several capsules also provide a substantial dose of chromium polynicotinate.
Race Caps Supreme for its three very powerful antioxidants – Coenzyme Q10, idebenone, and vitamin E; not only does it support enhanced energy production during exercise (from those nutrients plus other key substrates), it also supports enhanced recovery after your workouts. Additionally, all three nutrients play key roles in maintaining optimal cardiovascular health.
Mito-R Caps, arguably the most potent supplement you can take for recovery and overall health. The combination of acetyl l-carnitine (ALC) and r-alpha lipoic acid (r-ALA) has many extraordinary benefits; to list them all would fill a book. These two powerful nutrients provide immune system support, lean muscle tissue preservation via decreased levels of excess cortisol, and optimal functioning of the mitochondria, your body’s energy producing “furnaces.” The r-ALA component is especially beneficial in that it extends the usable life of antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and glutathione.
Super AO, perhaps the strongest non-vitamin antioxidant formula available. Because athletes consume several hundred times more oxygen than sedentary people do, excess free radical production is a certainty. Left unchecked, free radicals can damage cell membranes, suppress the immune system, and delay recovery. To protect the body’s cells and to promote accelerated recovery, sufficient antioxidant intake is critical. Super AO perfectly complements the antioxidants found in the above three products.
Xobaline for its influence on the resynthesis of RNA, the basis for cellular reproduction. Recent research suggests that improving RNA “status” within the body results in gains in lean muscle mass, increased mitochondrial resynthesis, and other benefits. When this occurs, the athlete may expect increased energy capacity, improved metabolism, and enhanced recovery after exercise. In addition, the folic acid/vitamin B12 combination is vital for healthy red blood cell production and cardiovascular health, via the reduction of elevated homocysteine levels.
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. Therefore, how well you recover today will greatly determine your performance tomorrow. A comprehensive recovery program will address all the nutritional categories described above, in addition to rest, stretching, and the other physical modalities. 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.