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What should be in your post-run recovery drink?
Photo by Patitucci Photo
At the end of a hard run, your muscles quiver with fatigue, mouth is dry and heart pounds. You wipe the sweat from your forehead and swig water. You may not feel hungry but this is when your body needs food as much as water. Running suppresses the appetite because blood is sent to working muscles instead of the digestive system. Ironically, what you consume right after a run largely influences the quality of your recovery. As soon as you stop running, your body shifts into repair mode to heal muscle microtears, replace glycogen stores and build lean-muscle protein. These cellular reparations are what make you stronger and faster.
“Research indicates that replenishing energy stores within 30 minutes after exercising helps you train harder and better the next time,” says Lisa Dorfman, Sports Nutritionist for the University of Miami Athletic Department, professional triathlete and author of Performance Nutrition for Football. Immediately after a workout, your body is starving for carbohydrates, protein and electrolytes. Since solid food can be difficult to digest, recovery drinks (either commercial or homemade) are an effective way to take in necessary nutrients.
“Recovery drinks can reach your bloodstream within 10 minutes of consumption,” says Richard Smith, a kinesiologist and co-founder of Fluid recovery drink (see next page). “Whereas a protein- and carbohydrate-rich meal of salmon and whole-grain rice will take up to an hour to digest.”
What should be in a recovery drink?
To nutritionally kick start the recovery process, choose a drink containing these nutrients.
Carbohydrates. Studies suggest that a mix of carbohydrate types (simple and complex) is more effective at replenishing muscle glycogen than a single source. Select drinks that include fructose, sucrose and maltodextrin, or sweeten a fruit smoothie with a little sugar, agave nectar, honey or maple syrup. Carbohydrates also help muscles soak up nutrients and decrease the release of cortisol, which is released at times of stress, including exercise-related stress. When carbohydrate levels are low, cortisol contributes to the breakdown of muscle protein.
Electrolytes. Electrolyte-containing drinks provide quicker post-exercise rehydration than plain water. Coconut water, bananas and dates provide electrolytes in homemade drinks, while commercial drinks usually list electrolyte content as milligrams of sodium, potassium and calcium.
An often overlooked electrolyte is magnesium. “Intense exercise can deplete magnesium stores by 10 to 20 percent,” says Dorfman. “Most of the athletes I see are magnesium deficient. This is a concern because magnesium affects muscle contraction, muscle oxygen uptake, bone strength, protein synthesis, electrolyte balance and the immune system.” To meet the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 320 milligrams for women and 420 milligrams for men, take a multivitamin and eat foods such as halibut, cashews, almonds, spinach and soybeans. (Calculate your magnesium intake at www.slowmag.com.)
Protein. Combining carbohydrates with protein is the ideal formula for rebuilding muscles protein and glycogen stores. Recommended carbohydrate-to-protein ratios vary from 2:1 to 5:1, so rather than sweating the quantity, focus on quality. “What’s most critical is the form of protein, which should include branched-chain amino acids [BCAAs],” says Dorfman. “Leucine, found in whey protein, is a BCAA that is especially important to protein synthesis.”
Milk-based proteins (like whey) have higher bioavailability (rate of absorption by the body) than most plant-based proteins such as nuts, though enriched soy protein isolate can be almost as bioavailable as whey.
Taking carbohydrates and protein together also enhances the body’s release of insulin, a hormone essential to helping muscle cells convert glucose to glycogen, absorbing amino acids and slowing post-workout breakdown of muscle protein.
While essential fatty acids and antioxidants support the recovery process, it isn’t necessary to consume them immediately after training.
Essential fatty acids. EFAs (such as omega 3 and omega 6) play a critical role in many biological systems, from cardiovascular to the nervous system. They are called “essential” because they cannot be produced by the body and must be consumed.
Athletes in particular need EFAs to repair exercise-induced cell damage and reduce joint and muscle inflammation. Consume EFAs daily through a healthy diet that includes salmon, hemp seeds, chia seeds and flax-seed oil (in smoothies, on salads or cooked grains) or fish-oil supplements.
Antioxidants. Commercial recovery drinks (in liquid and powder forms) often come packed with vitamins, but studies suggest that taking large vitamin doses for the purpose of eradicating free radicals may be counter productive.
Everything you do generates an overabundance of molecules with unpaired electrons, called free radicals, that contribute to disease and signs of aging. Experiments with athletes revealed that blocking the production of free radicals with antioxidants (like vitamins C and E) has the unwanted effect of interfering with the body’s ability to adapt to exercise stress.
Researchers concluded that athletes are better off not bothering with antioxidants and allowing exercise-induced adaptations to take place. This also allows the body’s built-in defense system to counteract free-radical damage.
3 Post-Run Recovery Drinks for Trail Runners
Vega Whole Food
$27.50 for 15 servings
- Calories: 120
- Carbohydrates: 10 g
- Protein: 14 g
- Sodium: 170 mg
- Potassium: 170 mg
- Magnesium: 25% RDA
Add this nutritious powder to your favorite smoothie recipe or juice to create a rejuvenating recovery drink rich in iron, fiber, electrolytes and essential fatty acids. All the ingredients are derived from raw, organic whole foods including wheat grass, spinach and other greens, ground flax seeds, brown rice
$30 for 16 servings
(Tropical Escape flavor)
- Calories: 128
- Carbohydrates: 25 g
- Protein: 7 g
- Sodium: 250 mg
- Potassium 25 mg (the chocolate flavor has 125 mg)
- Magnesium: 15% RDA
Fluid’s only-what-you-need, nothing-you-don’t recipe includes a mix of maltodextrin and fructose to give you a carbohydrate kick, combined with whey protein isolate and a 2500-milligram dose of powerful amino acid L-Glutamine.
$27 for 12 servings
(Pumpkin Chocolate flavor)
- Calories: 230
- Carbohydrates: 35 g
- Protein: 7 g
- Sodium: 75 mg
- Potassium 220 mg
- Magnesium: 15% RDA
While not a drink per se, Rokit Fuel is a satiating and convenient recovery food inspired by the founder’s father’s home-made hot-cereal concoctions. Mix a little water or milk with the ground-up whole grains and seeds for a tasty meal. Available in four varieties.
This article appeared in our January 2011 issue.