As athletes, we all need recovery to allow the body to adapt; to become stronger and more fit. The period of time between workouts is when glycogen can be re-synthesized and restocked in the muscles and liver. The body also repairs damaged tissues, strengthens tendons and ligaments, and remodels bones to become stronger. There may also be some adaptations taking place in the central nervous system, that will allow us to perform better in the next workout.
There are many things that can be done to enhance recovery. Recovery should begin soon after a workout finishes. Research has shown the intake of calories in a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein greatly enhances glycogen replenishment. The body can uptake these calories much more easily in the first hour after exercise. This post workout calorie intake can also help resupply the body with the nutrients needed for recovery.
The most commonly used products are recovery drinks, as rehydration is also needed after a workout. There are plenty of commercial products available; Endurox R4,Ultragen, Infinit Repair to name a few. Chocolate milk as also been shown to work well for recovery. The addition of vitamin E and vitamin C, as well as L-Glutamine during this period of time has been shown to enhance recovery in some studies. Both vitamin E and vitamin C are free radical scavengers, with L-Glutamine being an amino acid that is utilized in tissue repair processes.
So, what are free radicals? When oxygen interacts with certain molecules, said molecule looses an electron and becomes reactive as it seeks out it’s lost electron. These are often knowns as Reactive Oxygen Species(ROS) or simply Free Radicals. This is a normal byproduct of the metabolic process carried out within the mitochondria. These Free Radicals can cause damage to other cells and even the DNA within the cells. The body has systems in place to deal with these Free Radicals, though these systems may be overwhelmed in endurance athletes training hard.
Eating a healthy diet containing plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables will help to ensure your body is stocked with these Free Radical scavengers, and other nutrients needed to support recovery. Avoiding other sources of Free Radical production is also beneficial. Cigarette smoke, excessive alcohol consumption, and high levels of UV exposure can produce very high levels of Free Radicals.
When it comes to recovery calories, if my training volume is lower, I often will just consume real food. When things ramp up, I like to consume 200-400 calories right after any workout that was more than 90 minutes, or very hard, often from a commercial recovery drink. Real food could still be used if the 3:1 or 4:1 ratio is abided by. For me personally, after a really hard or long workouts, I often don’t feel like consuming a lot of real food. In these cases, a recovery drink works well. They are also very portable, so you can take it with you to consume right after your harder workouts.
Two, out of many, research articles on recovery drinks: