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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Post Workout Recovery: Don't Miss the "Window of Opportunity"


Photo by Nils Geylen

Congratulations, you've just finished a tough workout and now you're ready to kick back and have a nice, cool beverage. But wait, you're on a diet. Should you drink water to save the calories? What about Gatorade? Don't the commercials say that you need to replace electrolytes after a hard workout?

You should definitely drink enough water to stay hydrated throughout your workout and if you have been outdoors in the summer heat you may need to replace electrolytes with Gatorade. These are primarily hydration issues, though. It's important to realize that after a hard workout, there is a recovery "window of opportunity" that closes rapidly. If that window closes and you miss it, it may take days for you to fully recover instead of hours. The purpose of a good post workout recovery drink is to help prepare you for your next workout.

How soon should I have a recovery drink?

Intense, long-lasting exercise depletes your body's stores of glycogen, a stored form of carbohydrates. When you finish a hard workout, your body's enzymes are primed for replenishing those stores. After the first 30 minutes following exercise, this enzyme activity begins to drop off dramatically. Take advantage of these enzymes by consuming easily digestible liquids containing a 4:1 ration ofcarbohydrates to protein within 30 minutes of finishing your workout. Studies have shown that this ratio is close to optimal, but any ratio from 2:1 to 7:1 of carbohydrates to protein will result in a higher glycogen uptake than consuming carbohydrates alone. Don't wait! Drink a recovery drink before you take a shower or drive home from the gym. It's that important.

For the mathematically challenged out there, how do you figure out if your post recovery drink is a good choice? Look at the Nutrition Facts panel. Multiply the grams of protein by 4. Is the result close to the grams of carbohydrates in the drink? If it is, it's a good choice.

But I thought sugar was "bad"?

Now, I've said before to minimize processed carbohydrates from your diet because they are absorbed so quickly and cause an enormous release of insulin. Insulin's job in the body is to "open the gate" of your cells so that glycogen can be stored and this is exactly what your body needs after a workout. If you feel you can't live without processed carbohydrates, the best time to consume them is immediately following a workout.

Before you line up outside of Krispy Kreme to "carb load", let me mention that fat dramatically slows this process down by slowing down the digestion process. A doughnut is not a good post recovery item because of its high fat content. Sorry.

Good post workout recovery drinks:

  • Chocolate Milk - better than regular milk because of its higher sugar content. Make it with skim milk and you've go the perfect post-workout drink.
  • Yogurt smoothie - good ratios with enough sugar to replenish glycogen stores.
  • Accelerade - a commercial recovery drink with the right protein to carb ratio, but come on, better than chocolate milk? I don't think so.
Do you routinely drink a recovery drink after your workout?

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S William said...

I go for quinoa and fresh tomatoes post-workout :)

Fit Club Scott said...

That's a good choice for the carb to protein ration, but I can't over-emphasize the "speed of absorption" aspect.

I would drink something containing carbs with that meal to make sure to get that glycogen restoration process going immediately.

I know from your blog that you lift weights frequently, so recovery is very important. Try a drink with about 40g of carbs with the quinoa and tomatoes and see if you notice a difference in your workouts.