Just as your body needs a combination of vital components to perform at its optimum level – so it also requires the right combination of nutritional elements for proper recovery after exercise.
Protein is needed to promote muscle adaptation. It helps repair the exercise-induced damage to muscle fibre and promotes the synthesis of new proteins as well as replenishing depleted energy stores. However, to make this most effective you have to get protein into your system ideally immediately after a training session.
For fast results you can use easily digestible whey protein with a tablespoon of Whole Earth peanut butter in a shake. Then continue to drip-feed protein through the following 24 hours including a meal of protein and carbs with good fats too – a turkey breast sandwich, chicken with pasta or fish with steam vegetables are all good choices.
Recent research reveals that small, regular amounts of carbohydrate after running or biking play a significant role in effective recovery. Carbs act to quickly refuel the body and replace the glycogen used up during training sessions.
Re-stocking carbs will help produce insulin – which in turn will improve amino acid and glucose absorption. Some good high-glycaemic index foods – with protein content too – include home-made rice cakes with cheese, a sweet fruit smoothie with banana, or bread with a peanut butter spread.
Rehydration after exercise not only replaces the water lost through sweating. Drinks containing carbohydrate can also serve to replenish depleted muscle glycogen stores, while milk with its water, sugar (lactose) and electrolytes (sodium and potassium) can provide vital recovery vitamins too.
Levels of liquid intake will differ according to type and extent of activity you’ve been doing – aim for around 500ml an hour in the first couple of hours if you’re dehydrated – and monitor your urine color to make sure you re-hydrate fully.
If you want a sports drink then chocolate milk has been proven to provide the optimal carbohydrate-to-protein ratio.
Vitamins are essential to recovery as they counter the free radical toxins created by the process of challenging the body through training. A lot of vitamins are antioxidants that purge the body of the side-effects of training such as high lactic acid levels.
Vitamin C is one that does this and also boosts the creation of collagen tissue that helps repair tendons and blood vessels. The greatest sources include citrus fruits, peppers and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin D helps reduce inflammation and regulate the immune system – fatty fish and fortified milk products provide it in decent quantities.
Additionally vitamin E increases blood circulation and helps the body to get rid of a protein known as creatine phosphokinase— also referred to as CPK— which seeps into the bloodstream and damages cells.
Minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium all support muscle repair and reduction in inflammation during the recovery period. Calcium improves bone strength while iron aids the creation of oxygen-carrying proteins – haemoglobin and myoglobin – which are important to endurance athlete recovery. Zinc plays a role in the repair of muscle tissue and maintenance of the immune system while dietary magnesium boosts the metabolisation of fat and the potassium restores electrolytes which are key to blood ph levels.