Ironically, endurance athletes aren't health-nuts.
We'd rather spend our time planning the next adventure than thinking about our diet. But what if everything we ate would make or break our training... would we choose differently?
In reality, it does. Our meals are the foundation of your skeletal system, your muscular strength and endurance, your immune system, and your energy.
You are what you digest and assimilate.
In training, our athletic gains come from recovery - this is the time the body makes the adaptations that lead to greater speed, strength, and endurance. Recovery is easy to overlook until exhaustion, injury, or illness demands our attention. By that point, we often overlook that improper fuel may be the cause of our woes.
After exercise, we have a beautiful window of opportunity called the glycogen window. It exists from the minute our workout ends until about 30-45 minutes later.
The body is primed and ready to receive nutrition in the glycogen window.
It’s as through the ship is at port and all hands are on deck waiting to receive supplies. The home team has the ball and the opposing team, with its goalie, is nowhere to be found. There is no better time to fuel up because glycogen synthesis is two to three times more productive than it will be half an hour later. While you can recover depleted glycogen stores outside this window, those who opt out of immediate refueling may need to wait an extra 48-72 hours for their bodies to get back to pre-workout fuel stores.
The glycogen window is a potent opportunity to supply our bodies with the best possible fuel.
So, what is the best fuel for recovery?
My personal favorite is a smoothie. I can customize it to meet my needs and it supplies mega-nourishment in a rapidly digested, convenient package. Your recovery meal must contain easily digested carbohydrate, protein, electrolytes and some antioxidants, all of which can be found in a smoothie:
Bananas, Dark Berries and their Juices
Sources of natural carbohydrates and some of the best anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant nutrients around! Tart cherries have been shown in one study to reduce muscle soreness and the high antioxidant count of blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries prevent wear and tear on the body and preserve the immune system. Bonus points if you go organic — evidence strongly supports organic produce has higher levels of antioxidants and phytochemicals than conventionally grown counterparts. Bananas add an additional boost of carbohydrate that easily converts to glycogen and contains potassium, an important electrolyte lost in sweat.
You can choose a protein powder, tofu or yogurt, but skip the raw eggs! Studies indicate that consuming some protein with your carbohydrate allows glycogen storage to be increased 30% more than consuming carbohydrate alone. It’s speculated that the protein helps “shuttle” the carbohydrate to the eagerly waiting muscle cells. This protein can also be used to repair microtears in our muscles, which contribute to soreness. When choosing a protein powder, make sure it contains at least 1.7 grams of leucine, an amino acid that stimulates muscle recovery and development. Make sure you are adding at least 25 total grams of protein to your smoothie to facilitate muscle repair during heavy training.
Some healthful components to add to your smoothie to boost nutrition can be: a liquid vitamin, mineral, or antioxidant formula, spirulina, bee pollen, adaptogenic herbs (which help the body adapt to the stresses of life and training), branched chain amino acids, or any other nutrient-booster that meets your unique needs. This is a wonderful way to sneak in vitamins if you have a hard time getting that multi in each morning. Some pills are hard to swallow, but a smoothie always goes down sweetly!
And clean-up needn’t be complicated! When you are finished with your blender, refill it with water, add a little dish soap, and blend on high. It should do a respectable job of cleaning up the side walls. Then rinse and let air dry while you move on with your day.
Here's a smoothie recipe to get you started:
Cocoa Cherry Protein Smoothie
- 8 oz Tart Cherry Juice
- 1 banana, chopped
- 1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
- 8 oz Cold Water
- 1-2 scoops Whey Protein Powder (25+ grams protein)
- 1 cup ice
Combine ingredients except the protein powder and blend.
Add in the protein powder at the very end with just a few pulses of the blender.