I am finding an increasing number of athletes using engineered foods for recovery, and paying far more attention to marketing than to science. The ads for these products generally have some elements of the truth. However, they do not deliver on providing a complete picture to the athlete. They provide only the information necessary to sell their product! Before you spend money at the gym for an antioxidant, dark chocolate, energy bar with a label that reads “recovery bar” consider the following:
What is the purpose of recovery?
When is your recovery window?
Why is this important?
The definition of recovery is “to return to a normal state”. Post exercise, the components necessary to bring back into balance are: fluids, electrolytes, carbohydrates, and protein. Therefore, your recovery meals and snacks should be providing all of these. Sometimes one food provides all components of good recovery, other times more than one food is necessary.
While it is true that the window of recovery is optimal within 60 minutes after exercise, this is only crucial for elite athletes. These are the individuals who train hard and 6 hours later they are back at it. (For example, if you are a division 1 athlete with multiple daily practices, a soccer player competing in 2 games in the same day, or a triathlete doubling up on daily workouts.) If your exercise routine allows for 24 hours before you get physical again, you have adequate time to restore muscle glycogen. Just be sure carbohydrates are the foundation of your meals and snacks along with some protein for rebuilding and repairing muscles.
Your recovery foods should have 3 to 4 times more calories from carbs than from protein. Some good choices of foods with this ratio include:
Low fat chocolate milk
Oatmeal and skim milk
Why is this important? The reason for recovery is to get your body ready to exercise hard again. Proper recovery will optimize performance. Failure to recover properly will inevitably slow you down. Insufficient fueling of the muscles mean they won’t fire as quickly and athletes will slow down or lose power. Fluid and electrolyte losses that aren’t replaced can cause an athlete to cramp. When the brain doesn’t get the nutrients it needs, the athtlete’s ability to process what’s happening on the field decreases, while also decreasing the athlete’s reaction time. Not only will the athlete not make the desired play; a slower reacting athlete is at risk for injury.
As a mom of 2 kids in sports, I spend a good deal of time helping them recover. At our house, the favorite recovery drink is low-fat chocolate milk. Chocolate milk provides all of the components of a good recovery food: fluid, electrolytes, carbs and protein ( in the ratio of 3-4 : 1). Nutritional Profile of 8 oz. Low Fat Chocolate Milk:
150 mg sodium, 425 mg potassium, 8 g protein, 26 g carbohydrate, 154 calories
I also enjoy blending up smoothies. Here is one of my favorites. I discovered this recipe from Cooking Light and have made a few minor changes:
Banana Cream Pie Smoothie
1 medium ripe banana
4 oz. skim milk
4 oz. non-fat vanilla yogurt
1 T wheat germ
Directions Slice banana and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Freeze until firm (about 1 hour). Place frozen banana and remaining ingredients in a blender. Process until smooth. Serve immediately. Makes 1 serving
Nutrition Profile: 127 mg sodium, 915 mg potassium, 15 g protein, 56 g carbohydrate, 293 calories
If you are serious about your sport, you should be serious about recovery. The time is now to feel better, perform better and enjoy your journey. What aspects of recovery can you improve?
Diane Boyd, M.B.A., R.D., L.D.N