With the emergence and rampant popularization of low carbohydrate, high protein diets such as The Zone, Atkins or South Beach, millions of Americans have been able to lose weight more effectively than ever. Along with these diets came a variety of post workout “recovery” products such as bars and drinks, that shared the same low carbohydrate content as the diet they were associated with. Health clubs across the nation began stocking up on these bars and drinks and the exercising public ate them up, literally.
Unfortunately, while these diets are fantastic for weight loss and overall health, they leave a significant nutritional hole in the diet of a competing athlete. Post workout nutrition is an essential component in an athlete’s recovery, resistance to injury, health and overall performance. Poor post workout nutrition can actually lead to loss in muscle mass, overall strength and promote a poor body composition.
While SPARTA athletes are encouraged to have a daily diet consisting almost entirely of lean protein sources (fish, meat and eggs), many varieties of vegetables and fruits, and good fats (olive, canola, fish oil, flax, avocados), there is one time when we demand a higher intake of carbohydrates. After workouts, all SPARTA athletes have a drink consisting of twice as much carbohydrate as protein, with every athlete taking in 1 gram of protein per 5 pounds of body mass. For example, a 200 pound athlete would have a drink containing 36 grams of protein and about 80 grams of carbohydrates.
Your muscles store carbohydrates (sugar) as glycogen and use it as energy during strenuous exercise. After a workout, practice or game your muscle glycogen stores are severely depleted. In an effort to recover, your body attempts to replenish these glycogen stores. If there is not any carbohydrate present to do so, your body resorts to what we like to call “muscle cannibalism,” essentially breaking down your muscles to replenish these energy stores. So, instead of building up the very muscles you were trying to strengthen, you can actually lose muscle mass and subsequently strength. Research by Asker Jeukendrup, Professor of Exercise Metabolism at the University of Birmingham, UK showed that ingesting carbohydrates 30-60 minutes after exercise significantly increased the rapid replenishment of muscle glycogen— the best indicator of recovery in the muscle.
Supplying your body with carbohydrates as well as protein can help aid recovery and build muscle mass and strength. After a training session, your muscles are damaged. To repair and grow, they need protein. Ingesting carbohydrates and protein assures that you will replenish both your glycogen stores, and have the available protein to help with muscle growth and repair. Research by John Ivy, Chairman of the Kinesiology and Health Education department at the University of Texas, showed that ingesting a combination of protein and carbohydrate after exercise was more effective in the rapid replenishment of muscle glycogen than ingesting carbohydrate alone. Furthermore, research by Blake Rasmussen in the Department of Surgery at the University of Texas Metabolism Unit showed that post workout supplementation of carbohydrate and protein increased the synthesis (making) of muscle protein, speeding up the repair process and building new muscle.
So what if you can’t get a balanced post workout drink like SPARTA athletes? Try drinking a small carton of chocolate milk after workouts. The whey and casein protein in milk is the best kind for building muscle. And, you’ll get the carbohydrates you need to restore your glycogen stores from the chocolate.