The Endurance Coach: Eating for recovery

The Endurance Coach: Eating for recovery
The Endurance Coach: Eating for recovery
The Endurance Coach: Eating for recovery

Effective recovery is arguably the most important component to your training but often the most neglected and least planned.

Recovery is the period of time where you reap the benefits of your training and the adaptations occur.

How you choose to recover can have a profound effect upon:

  • How well you can train in your next session
  • Your risk of injury
  • Your risk of picking up opportunistic infections
  • Your ability to reach your true potential

Training leads to:

  • Muscle and tissue damage
  • Carbohydrate depletion in the exercising muscles (low carbohydrate stores)
  • Water loss and most likely dehydration via sweating and respiration
  • A reduction in blood plasma volume (the fluid component of blood)
  • Suppression of the immune system

After exercise your body is in a state of ‘catabolism’ (breakdown of muscles and tissue) due to the stress caused by training. By implementing a nutrition recovery strategy that not only provides the proper nutrients but are also eaten at the appropriate times you can enhance the process of ‘anabolism’ (repairing and building up of muscles and tissue), maximise the training adaptations and speed up the recovery process.

“2 hours window”

You may already be aware of the ‘2 hour golden window of opportunity’. This is a 2 hour ‘time window’ which occurs immediately after training when your body is more adept to refuelling and recovering.

Whilst the 2 hour window does exist, recovery doesn’t just take place in those 2 hours only. Recovery should be treated as the time between training sessions albeit 8, 24 or 72 hours. In this article I will be focusing upon recovery in the few hours following training and also outlining the important nutrients which influence recovery rate.

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Carbohydrate

Glycogen synthesis (carbohydrate storage in muscles and liver) is a fairly slow process and it can take up to 24 hours to fully replenish stores after hard training. When carbohydrate is consumed immediately after training the rate of uptake into the muscles is faster (2 hour window mentioned earlier). There is greater emphasis on making the most of this 2 hour window when recovery time is short between sessions (e.g. twice a day training).

If an athlete is glycogen-depleted (low carbohydrate stores) after exercise, they should consume a carbohydrate intake of 0.6 –1.0 g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight per hour during the first 30 minutes. This should be repeated every two hours for 4 – 6 hours or every 2hours until your next meal.

Example: A 62kg athlete would therefore consume between 37.2 (62×0.6) and 62 (62×1) grams of carbohydrate within the first 30 minutes and repeated every 2 hours for 4-6 hours.

A single sports/energy bar will generally contain 50-60g of carbohydrate and a single gel contains 15-20g of carbohydrate (check the side of the packet!).

The best type of carbohydrate to consume immediately post training is high glycaemic index carbohydrate which enters the body at a fast rate e.g. sports drinks, energy bars, recovery drinks, banana, cereal bars, malt loaf.

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Protein (PRO)

Consuming protein immediately after training will help to promote muscle repair and anabolism but the source of protein consumed after training is important. Research has shown that ‘whey protein’ is the most effective (which is a fast absorbing high quality protein providing all the essential amino acids and branch chain amino acids required for muscle building and repair).

Whey protein can be sourced from consuming dairy products such as milk and yoghurts, recovery drinks, protein bars and whey protein powders.

Consuming good quality protein in your general diet (as mentioned in last month’s article) will also provide essential amino acids that can kick start the recovery process.

CHO + PRO: A well practiced approach is to consume a recovery snack containing carbohydrate and protein in a 3:1 ratio within 30 minutes following exercise, which translates to 1.2 – 1.5 g/kg of high GI CHO with 0.3 – 0.5 g/kg of a good quality PRO containing essential amino acids.

Chocolate milk has been found to be one of the most effective recovery drinks because it includes all nutrients required to enhance the recovery process including carbohydrates, protein, fluid and electrolytes it can’t get easier than that!

Other examples include recovery drinks, milk + banana and cereal bar, drinking yoghurt + fruit, meat sandwich + yoghurt or make your own recovery drink with whey protein + dextrose made with milk. For those athletes who find it difficult to eat solid food immediately after training and for convenience a recovery drink is ideal.

Hydration

Following exercise fluid losses are ongoing due to obligatory urine losses and you’re probably still sweating a bit. Therefore it is important that the fluid replaced after training is greater than the amount lost during exercise in order to restore your body to its optimal level of hydration.

What you ‘choose’ to drink immediately after exercise will determine how effectively you rehydrate.

Research has shown that drinking water alone in the recovery period is not sufficient to restore ‘body water’ and the addition of electrolytes (sodium particularly) is required. Rehydration requires repletion of both fluid volume and electrolytes.

Blood plasma volume (fluid component of blood) needs to be restored post exercise in order for optimal delivery of nutrients to muscles and tissue for repair and for the removal of waste products following exercise. Suitable fluids to drink after exercise are:

  • Sports drinks
  • Milk based drinks + sports drink
  • Water AND food combined (food will contain sodium which will help with the retention of fluid).

Anti-Inflammatory

An inflammatory response is desirable when you are training (inflammation will result from damaged caused to the body during exercise e.g. muscle damage, ligament, tendons). However intense training results in a significant amount of inflammation that requires nutritional strategies to help counter act this stress. The consumption of omega 3 fish oil has been shown to reduce inflammation in muscles and joints and speed recovery after training.

It is the essential fatty acids within these fish oils known as EPA and DHA that are the functional components involved in reducing inflammation. Recommended dosages of omega 3 supplementation on a daily basis is ~1.5g of EPA/DHA but even a dose of 500mg will provide an anti-inflammatory benefit.

An intake of 150-200g of fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, tuna, and sardines a minimum of 4 times a week would be sufficient for most and not require needing fish oil supplementation. However if this is not practical then a daily supplementation of omega 3 fish oils containing the stated dosages above would be very beneficial. Taking omega 3 fish oils during exercise is not worth while and does not reduce inflammation in that session. It is the consistent daily intake of omega 3 oils that will lead to an overall reduction in inflammation after training.

The best time to take omega 3 fish oils is with meals where absorption is enhanced. If you are on any medication for blood pressure or heart problems please consult your GP before increasing oily fish consumption or taking supplements.

Antioxidants

Similarly to inflammation when high training at high intensity and volume your body is more at risk of harmful damage caused by ‘free radicals’ which are produced during exercise. The immune system is ‘up regulated’ to try and counter act this response but not sufficient enough to mop up all the free radicals produced. Athletes particularly competing in ultra distance running events are even more susceptible to this damage because exercise lasting greater than 90minutes has been shown to suppress the immune system for up to 72 hours following exercise.

Antioxidants combat ‘free radical damage’ and can be found mainly in fruit and vegetables, there are many different antioxidants that help to mop up free radicals in the body and each antioxidant has a specific purpose.

Examples of antioxidants include vitamin C (e.g. oranges, red peppers, lemons, kiwis, peas), Vitamin E (e.g. almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds and soybean), Beta Carotene (e.g. carrots and sweet potato), and phyto-chemicals such as flavanoids (e.g. green tea, quercitin, cocoa, pomegranate juice, fish oils).

The most effective way to increase antioxidant intake is to consume a varied diet, focusing upon foods that are natural sources of antioxidants such as fruit and vegetables. The approach of using a high dosage of a single antioxidant nutrient e.g. vitamin C or co-enzyme Q 10 is not recommended because many antioxidants work synergistically in the body and have a more potent effect when combined with other antioxidants rather than being taken alone.

Antioxidant rich fruit and vegetables tend to be those that are darker and richer in colour e.g. blueberries (in fact all berries), broccoli, beetroot, pomegranate, red cabbage, carrots, plums, tomatoes, peppers, red grapes, sweet potato, pumpkin, oranges. Doubling up on your fruit and vegetables on a daily basis can increase the antioxidant property of your blood by as much as 15-25%.

Summary

Building in and planning for recovery is important to ensure you receive the optimal rewards from your training. Following a nutritional strategy stirred in with at least 8 hours sleep per night is a recipe for success.

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Written by
Marshal Durden
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