Piggybacking off of Mary’s fabulous Fueling Your Goals article, I want to delve deeper into each aspect of fueling…
Let’s begin with the end, as everything we do is about how well we recover. Our athletic gains from training come from recovery. It’s the quieter background time that is easiest to overlook until we are exhausted, injured, or too cranky to function. By that point, we often overlook that our food may be the cause of our woes.
After we exercise, we have a beautiful window of opportunity. Literally referred to as the glycogen window, this span of time exists between the minute our workout ends until about 30-45 minutes later. Glycogen is the stored form of carbohydrate. It is predominantly located in our muscles and liver and is utilized during all aerobic activities.
Our 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 soccer 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 your ability to make glycogen is two to three times higher than it will be half an hour later. While we eventually will recover our depleted glycogen stores without taking advantage of 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.
An added bonus to this window of optimization is that our body is most likely to utilize the nourishment received for tissue repair and adaptation, maintaining the strength of the immune system, and furiously preparing the entire body to be able to handle another workout. This means that your recovery meal is unlikely to be converted to body fat.
But this is not license to have a recovery meal of chocolate cake, ladies!
The glycogen window is a potent opportunity to supply our bodies with the best possible fuel. If everything you ate would make or break your training and your results, would you choose differently? In reality, it does. Your 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.
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, and some antioxidants, all of which can be found in a smoothie:
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.
Protein. You can choose a protein powder, tofu or yogurt, but please 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, look for a GMO-free (if soy), rBGH-free (if whey or egg based) source without artificial sweeteners. Your local natural food store is likely to carry such a product or you may wish to look online.
Extra Goodies. 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), amino acids, or any other nutrient-booster that meets your unique needs. This is a wonderful way to sneak in vitamins if your kids (or you!!) seem to 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. Voilà!
So let’s hear back from you! If you haven’t been refueling IMMEDIATELY after your workout, try it this week and report back here any changes you have noticed. I’m willing to bet we are going to see a marked increase in energized, happy women! Watch out, world, here we come!
Smoothie photo by Calvert Cafe & Catering