The human body is an amazing and incredibly adaptable combination of mechanical and biological systems that is capable of performing so many different tasks. Sports nutrition researchers are discovering everyday that the body of a trained athlete interacts with food very differently that that of an ordinary person. The tremendous stresses placed on the human body during hard training and competition demand large amounts of fuel and specific nutrients needed to repair the damage and refill the fuel tank before the next session.
I am convinced that every athlete possesses a reservoir of untapped potential for performance and efficiency and the one thing that’s seems the make the biggest difference for the greatest number of athletes is optimal nutrition during and especially after exercise. If you are searching for that key to reaching the next level start with your diet, especially the part that supports recovery.
Most of the work we do is in the area in changing dietary habits and behavior with regards to recovery nutrition. Not the magic pills and powders and potions kind of nutrition that has become so popular but just plain good eating habits that focused on providing energy for exercise and proper nutritional support for recovery.
Hard training is very stressful on the biological and mechanical systems of your body and the residual damage is not always easy to detect. For instance, at the cellular level, your muscles experience microscopic damage to cell membranes that can take several days to fully repair. That soreness associated with this damage is the result of the swelling and inflammation in the damaged tissue. This condition called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is common after very stressful training.
The intensity of your workouts has to increase periodically to stimulate adaptation and improvements in strength and endurance beyond your current level of development. This principle of “progression” is at the core of your muscle building program and key to receiving the most benefit from your training is to assist your body’s natural recuperation processes so it can resume training at useful levels on a regular basis.
As a weight trainee there are essential nutrients that are depleted during exercise that need to be replenished immediately after training to promote good recovery. In order they are, fluids (water), essential minerals (mainly electrolytes) and muscle glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrate). Milk is a fluid and has electrolytes, carbs and protein, making it ideal for post workout nutrition.
Dehydration is a major concern for endurance athletes when training for 2 hours or longer. Loosing fluid during training will effect performance and too much fluid loss can cause heat related illnesses and be a serious health risk. Dehydration is a natural result of training and sometimes you cannot replace fluids as fast as you lose them.
It is vital that you replace lost fluids immediately after your workout. If you are curious about how much water your body loses during training weight yourself before and after. I gallon of water weight about 8 pounds. Finishing a ride 4 pound lighter means you lost about 4 pints of fluid during your training. As little as 2% of your body weight lost to dehydration will affect your performance. Whatever you can’t replace during training needs to be replaced after.
Along with fluid loss you will lose important minerals with your sweat. A variety of minerals, including calcium, potassium, sodium, iron and selenium are responsible for a various functions in the body from regulating fluid balance and nerve signal transmission to allowing muscles to contract and building strong bones are depleted during exercise. These minerals are easy to replace in your normal diet but you should to get that process start immediately after training by replacing important electrolytes like potassium, sodium, chloride and magnesium to help you body quickly return to normal function.
Training will deplete the store of glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrate) in the muscle and liver cells. Glycogen is not replaced during exercise and has to be replenished after training. If the proper steps are not taken to replenish these stores before the next training session you are at risk of chronic glycogen depletion. Since the body can only store about 2000 calories of carbohydrate (glycogen) it is important to keep these stores topped off between training sessions.
Glycogen can only be derived from foods containing carbohydrate and this requires digestion and conversion before it can be stored. This process takes time. It can be helped along greatly by talking in carbohydrate immediately after exercise when stores are depleted and the body is the best prepared to replace them quickly. The potential for glycogen uptake is greatest in the first 30-45 minute after exercise. After 1 hour conversion and storage will continue while you rest but at a slower pace.
Addressing these three basic needs after training will help you recovery quickly and allow you body to do a better job repairing itself while you’re resting and sleeping. At the very least get some water in your system and snack on a protein bar as you are finishing your workout. A steady flow of fluids, carbohydrates and protein will make recovery after training a more effective process.