Fuel to Compete: Recovery Nutrition for Athletes
The more experienced I’ve become as a competitive athlete the more I’ve learned to not only recognize, but prioritize, my recovery. As a high school and collegiate athlete, many of these realizations came through anecdotal experience or loose “research” (let’s agree that the magazines at the grocery store checkout shouldn’t be where you look to for reliable advice). Over the years, however, with increased levels of experience, maturity and influence, I’ve fully adopted the respect that recovery is due in a culture overdone and beatdown by unending “hard work.” One of the most significant factors to a lifetime of recovery practice has been through improving and growing in my understanding of the ultimate fuel - nutrition.
There’s are an overwhelming number of resources, supplements and diet programs available when it comes to the world of “nutrition” and the task of finding the best option for any individual can be confusing or discouraging. For that reason, I’ve narrowed down to a few of the most valuable areas based on some of my own experience as I’ve navigated myself through this process, most deliberately in the past few years as a competitive athlete and fitness professional.
As you go through your training session, your blood glucose and glycogen stores are reduced and are responsible for the feeling of fatigue and low energy immediately following a workout. In true glycogen depletion, an athlete will experience what many call “hitting the wall” or “bonking” which can be a miserable experience for the individual in which the body no longer has fuel for the desired performance. Refueling blood glucose during and immediately after a tough workout is invaluable not only to recovering from the immediate session, but for future activity as well. High-glycemic and easily digestible carbs, such as a dextrose powder, are an effective way to refuel and replenish blood sugar stores for maximal recovery.
Post Workout Protein
The post workout protein shake isn’t just a gimmicky habit of meat heads with shaker bottles. To maximize muscle growth and repair tissue damage, the period of time immediately following a workout, commonly referred to as the “window of gains,” is a crucial time in regards to the relationship between nutrition and recovery. Practice taking in about 15-30g of protein, ideally in liquid form so that it digests quicker, within an hour of your training sessions along with some of those carbs!
Some may say they sparkle, but athletes sweat. A lot. Whether you’re actually producing droplets on your forehead or it’s dripping down your arms or not, the highly charged body of an athlete is especially prone to the effects of dehydration and can suffer in performance as a result. When we sweat, we lose a lot of the mineral salts in our body along with the actual volume of fluids. Total hydration, therefore, isn’t just about replacing the water that your body has lost but also the electrolyte balance. Supplementing with electrolytes, especially for a highly active individual, can be vital to optimize balance and recovery.
Much of the modern Western diet ranks poorly in the relationship of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids in our bodies which has resulted in chronic inflammation. Supplementing with fish oils can be tremendously effective in balancing these ratios, reducing inflammatory responses, and improving health and performance as a result. Omega-3’s are considered “essential” because we can only get them from our intake - our bodies can’t produce this by itself. Since our diets lack more natural sources, such as fish, supplementing these vital fatty acids with fish oil capsules can help increase muscle growth, inhibit tissue damage, reduce muscle soreness, increase immunity to disease, and even improve cognitive, heart and lung function.
It might seem easiest when you’re rushed to go through a drive-through or grab the easiest “healthy” option off the grocery store shelf, but understanding the role of nutrition as fuel to your body is an undeniable truth to increasing athletic human performance. The effort you put towards learning how to optimize your recovery from within will repay you more than you’re due for a healthier, stronger life.