Have you ever completed a particularly difficult HIIT session and found your muscles to be a little shaky afterwards (more common when weights or strength training is incorporated)? This is when you know you’ve definitely depleted your glycogen stores (the primary fuel your muscles use during a workout). That’s good… that’s what we want.
But, how do we restore those levels? Well, your body will eventually do this on it’s own but if you want to speed up the process, then you need to focus on taking in the right ingredients within 20 minutes of your completed exercise. The body’s ability to turn carbs into useful glycogen declines in the hours following your workout. This is why many people choose to carb-load immediately following the completion of their workout.
So, should you be refueling your glycogen with a high-carb recovery formula?
What time are you working out? Do you work out in a fasted state? How long or intense is your routine? How do you feel afterwards?
- If you are working out later in the day, after you’ve already consumed a good amount of calories, then your glycogen stores may be fine. But that all depends on how you feel afterwards, how intense or long your workout is, and also if you consumed any calories within 2-3 hours before your workout. For example, say you eat dinner at 5 and then do an intense 30 minute cardio-focused routine around 7. Perhaps you feel like you pushed yourself hard but your muscles don’t feel particularly weak or shaky. You’re probably fine to skip a recovery drink and just focus on your post-workout nutrition. But I would advise that you wait about an hour to consume it as your body may still be burning calories during this time and you don’t want to slow that down.
- Alternatively, say you wake up at 5:30am, only drink a pre-workout energizer 20 minutes before your workout, and then perform an intense 30 minute routine with weights. Chances are, you’re going to be feeling a little weak and your glycogen stores will be depleted even after only a 30 minute workout. You will need that recovery drink immediately after, and within an hour after that you will want to follow up with a good amount of protein.
THE RECOVERY FORMULA
As mentioned earlier, you can totally ditch the recovery formula if you want since your body will eventually restore it’s glycogen levels on its own. But if, for whatever reason, you need to speed up that process (maybe you’re training for a particular program, goal, or event), then just remember to drink this down within 20 minutes after you’ve completed your workout. Here are my recommendations for recovery formulas:
- For the vegetarian or health conscious:
Recovery Accelerator by Vega Sport.
Seriously, folks… this stuff is awesome, even if you aren’t a vegetarian. If you can afford it and you need a serious recovery formula, this is a good one. Love this stuff.
- For the cost-conscious:
1/2 a cup of organic chocolate milk, blended with 1/4 cup of organic frozen blueberries.
The idea here is to have the optimal 3 or 4:1 carb to protein ratio during this 20 minute window. Some people think it’s possible to mess with those ratios and still have a great formula. Possibly. But, this worked great for me when I was doing Insanity, so I thought I would share it with you. So, really, you can make up your own formula however you want. Just make sure you do the math to come up with the ratio you’re looking for. I mean, if you just want to drink straight chocolate milk immediately after your workout… go for it.
- For my paleo friends:
Elite Athlete Recovery Fuel or Sweet Potato Workout Formula by Simply Pure Nutrients.
You can also try a mashed up or pureed sweet potato with a little cinnamon and applesauce (perhaps even a little protein powder mixed in there). But be careful. I’m totally all about whole-food nourishment, but if your workout was pretty intense, your body may not be ready to digest such dense foods at this time. You can try it and see how your body responds, but make sure to give yourself time to just rest after this. If you’re concerned about digestion issues, another option is to try recovering with some good old kefir.
THE POST-WORKOUT MEAL
Within 60 minutes following your workout, you should consume a healthy amount of carbs and protein. What should this ratio look like? Well that all depends on your personal goals and how taxing your workout was. If you are focusing on strength training and trying to build muscle, you will probably want to consume a good amount of carbs. If you are simply trying to lean out, then try lowering the carbs, and increasing the fat (GOOD fats… like avocado, coconut oil, etc.). Of course, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone goes on a long-term low-carb diet, especially while working out. But, as mentioned, if leaning out is your first and foremost goal, then make it a point to not go crazy with the carbs. This is where good fats play such a vital role because they are going to be such a great source of energy for you. But the bottom line is: listen to your body.
While I can’t give you specifics, since we are all different and there is no magic cookie-cutter recipe that fits everyone, here is a sort of outline to go by:
- On lower-intensity days (can be long or short in duration) or days that you aren’t working out, try lowering your carbs, focusing on protein, and increasing your fats. For example, for your post-workout meal (not your recovery drink… this is different), you might do something like a scoop and a 1/2 of protein powder mixed with 1/4 cup of full-fat coconut milk, a little water, and some ice.
- On higher-intensity days (again, this can be long or short in duration), keep your protein up but also try increasing your carbs and slightly lowering your fat, particularly during your post-workout meal (this can be real food or a protein shake mixed with some almond or coconut milk, a banana, sweet potato, or anything else with a good amount of carbs.)
PROTEIN POWDER OPTIONS
Obviously, the options available to you out there are almost endless. There seems to be a new “magic” formula on the market daily, promising quick results, and obviously fulfilling all of your heart’s desires as an athlete. If only.
You can go and do some research yourself if you are looking for something very particular, decide to just go with what you already have because it works, or you can take a look at these options here:
Performance Protein by Vega Sport
Again, awesome product by Vega Sport. It includes 5,000 mg of BCAAs and Glutamine, so you wouldn’t need to supplement these. It’s available at Wholefoods, but for the best price, you might want to check Amazon… especially if you can get free shipping.
- Sugar-free (contains less than %0.5 soy lecithin):
Enhanced Whey Protein by Divine Health
This is high quality non-denatured, New Zealand (grass-fed) whey. You get your money’s worth here. Just make sure that you don’t over-blend (to a point where it’s causing heat) or you can denature the whey and lose some of the benefits that this kind of whey offers.
Extreme Edge Post-Workout Formula by Bluebonnet Nutrition
Includes lots of goodies like Creatine, Glutamine, and BCAAs. However, please note that below the ingredient list, it states that this product contains soybeans. If you’re sensitive, then I’d stay away.
- Sugar-free (might need to supplement extra amino acids, depending on your workout):
100% Natural Whey Protein Isolate by Bluebonnet Nutrition
Look for this one in your local health food store, because it’s likely they carry it. Please note, this one also contains soybeans.
I have to follow this list of recommendations with one word of caution. Please don’t use these as meal replacements. They are not meant to be that… they are supplements! Nothing is better than real food, in my opinion, so don’t go crazy with these. If you have the option to make your post-workout meal at home, using real food (omega-3 eggs with a baked organic sweet potato?), I would definitely take that over any of these options, any day. But I do understand, sometimes that’s just not convenient (especially if you’re running out of the gym), and it definitely takes a little more time and planning (if you work out at home, try putting your sweet potato in the oven before you workout).
ALL-DAY WORKOUT NUTRITION
These are just ideas to get you started somewhere, but again, please listen to your body. Even if you are trying to lean out, your body may require more carbs than you are feeding it. How do you know if you’ve over-done it with the carbs? If your symptoms start to look like this, that’s when:
- You feel a big decrease in energy when the afternoon rolls around.
- You can’t seem to focus, have foggy thinking, or a very short attention span.
- You feel extra anxious, stressed, or you’re having some crazy mood swings.
- You always feel hungry, especially at night, and/or you’re particularly craving sugar.
- You don’t feel rested after a full night of sleep or you’re just not sleeping well.
- You’re not recovering well after a workout, or you tend to be extremely sore the next day.
- Your joints ache and you feel bloated.
Now, these symptoms may not always be a sign of high carbs. Some of these symptoms can be a result from not having enough carbs in your diet (low-energy, not exactly “chipper”, low or no desire to workout, slow recovery). So, again, you’ll need to play with the numbers, and remember, this is going to change from day to day, depending on your activity. Ideally, with the right numbers, you should feel full of energy, motivation to train, clear-minded, and focused.
But if you are experiencing ALL of the above symptoms, it’s likely that you need to take a closer look at how many carbs you’re really consuming (I’m not into the whole calorie-counting thing, but I do think there is a place for carb-counting, especially if you are trying to reach a specific goal). Yes, even healthy, paleo-approved foods can contain massive amounts of carbs. Read labels, or do a quick search online to find out more regarding the foods you’re not sure about. Be informed so that you can avoid making symptoms worse and as a result, speed up your recovery time. Again, if sources of good, dense carbs (sweet potatoes, etc.) are causing you to feel even more hungry, just exchange some carbs for a little extra good fat. Usually, the amount you want to replace will be twice the amount of carbs. So, in place of 1 carb source, you will probably need 2 fat sources (avocado, olives, etc.). Listen to your body to find the right balance.
THE ULTIMATE RECOVERY
Oh sweet, sweet slumber…. if only we could discipline ourselves to get more of you. I know many of us struggle with this… myself included. So, I’m not gonna go all fact-crazy to convince you that you need more of it. I think you already know that. However, I am going to leave you with these list of reasons of why it’s not just good for your health to get more (and better) sleep, but it’s the ultimate recovery tool. Above all supplements, this is one is not only free, but it’s going to help you recover so much faster and better than anything else I’ve recommended.
- Less sleep changes our body’s glucose metabolism and how we process sugar.
- Less sleep makes us more hungry and causes us to crave high-carb foods.
- Less sleep causes our bodies to store fat and instead, burn muscle.
Motivated to go to bed early tonight, yet?
Okay, folks. That’s about it. If you’d like to read up on some of the other supplements that I like to cycle into some of my workout routines (I change it up, depending on the activity and need), then check out this last section. Otherwise, have a happy and healthy (non-sleep-deprived) day!
OTHER SUPPLEMENTS TO CONSIDER:
BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids) (5 grams, pre-workout & again post-workout)- Protects the muscles from breakdown. This is great to take in the morning, before exercising, if you are working out in a fasted state.
Creatine– increases muscle strength and power for very demanding workouts. I usually take it with my recovery formula if I did a lot of intense strength training.
Glutamine Powder– strengthens the immunity when training hard. It also aids in muscle recovery and growth. I like to take this one before going to bed.
Vitamin C– helps with stress. I use Emergen-C mixed into my bottle of water during long & extremely taxing workouts. I don’t do those kind of workouts often, but when I do, I definitely dose up with this powerful vitamin.
Vitamin D3– supports bone health. (Essential when you live in a place where the sun doesn’t always shine.)
Living Omega-3 (Fish Oil)– helps prevent muscle breakdown and reduces inflammation.
Living Sleep (Melatonin & L-Theanine)– improves quality of sleep
Natural Calm plus Calcium (Magnesium & Calcium)– reduces muscle cramping and promotes better sleep.
Perfect Green Coffee (Green Coffee Extract)– boosts metabolism and may assist with weight loss.
Cellgevity– helps to reduce inflammation and helps with recovery.
Living CoQ10 (Coenzyme Q10)– helps with energy levels and faster recovery.
Super R-Lipoic Acid– protects against oxidative stress generated by high glucose levels.
5-HTP– the precursor of serotonin. Can help improve mood and sleep quality.