Protein, Carbs and Fast Recovery

For most active folks, eating good food each and every day is more important for our fitness than fussing over exactly what food should be eaten at exactly what time to "optimize" performance, whether it's adding one more rep to a weight routine you do every week or running a 10K a few seconds faster.

A natural part of being physically active is a desire to find what might make us stronger, faster, improve endurance, or diminish/shorten the pain or discomfort of exertion. Lots of myths come and go regarding what  combination of foods or supplements can enhance your performance. The latest one to crash was the myth of "carbo-loading" before a hard endurance activity like a marathon. For years runners stuffed themselves with pasta and pizza in the days leading up to a race because the training establishment said that would enhance performance; however, that was often true only for very elite athletes who needed every possible physical advantage. All it would do for many average athletes was make them fat or feel sluggish.

However, solid research shows that what you eat or drink immediately after a HARD workout, especially involving resistance or high intensity, can have positive effects on speed of recovery, reducing inflammation and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Turns out a mix of protein and carbohydrate is a potent combination rather than just carbs alone.

Not that long ago, the exercise physiologists believed it was most important to restore glycogen to the depleted muscles and the need for protein was not as well understood (however, it should be noted that body-builders have understood this for a long time). Hard exercise, whether short, intense weight routines or long, pounding road runs, actually damage muscle fibers. Repair of the muscle requires protein synthesis with amino acids like glutamine and leucine. (If you want to learn more, read Nutrient Timing by Ivy and Portman.)

For every rule in health and fitness, there's an exception, and here it is. This is one of the rare times you are encouraged to consumer real sugar or dextrose! Note: Not fructose. Sugar or dextrose only. The sugar stimulates a strong insulin response (which is not good when your un-exercised muscles and liver are already full of glycogen - only after an exhausting workout) that not only quickly delivers glucose, but also increases blood flow to muscles, accelerating the delivery of oxygen and restorative nutrients, while removing lactic acid and metabolic byproducts.

In other words, if you consume a protein-carbohydrate combination, you quickly flip your body from  muscle breakdown (catabolic) to a muscle building. You will recover more quickly and keep your immune system strong. Remember that this approach is only needed if you workout almost to the point of exhaustion, which for this TOJ is only once or twice a week. The rest of the time is routine stuff.

You can make a recovery beverage by mixing 45 grams of sugar (yes, that's what's recommended -- about 10 level teaspoons --  I'll reduce mine to 5 and hope it works) with 15 grams of whey protein (sold at Whole Foods, Vitamin Cottage, many sports stores, GNC and online at sites like Defense Nutrition) in 12 oz. of water. Whey's pretty cheap, easily absorbed, and rich with crucial amino acids.  You want to drink your recovery beverage within an hour of of your workout to get the most  benefits.

Then just resume eating a healthy mix of veggies, fruits and high-quality protein.

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