Over the last 15 years, science has shown that whether you are a serious or recreational runner, recovery nutrition should be an essential part of your running regimen. Much of the latest science has focused on the impact of recovery nutrition on specific metabolic pathways. In other words we are learning how nutrition impacts repair and replenishment mechanisms.
If one examines the state of muscles following exercise, three condition are seen:
1) there is a decrease in muscle glycogen stores,
2) there is an increase in free radicals, or oxidative stress, and
3) there is a decrease in muscle protein synthesis and an increase in muscle protein degradation.
Studies conducted in the exercise science lab have shown that the right combination of nutrients consumed within 45-minutes after exercise (“the muscle recovery window) can significantly impact the rate of recovery, and this translates into a better workout the next day.
The effect of carbohydrate consumption after exercise is probably one of the most well-known and documented observations. If we deplete our muscle energy stores during exercise, it stands to reason that consuming carbohydrates will replenish these stores levels. However, the effects of recovery nutrition on muscle protein repair and oxidative stress have not been so clearly defined.
We now know that protein synthesis is controlled by an important signaling pathway and, as biochemists have defined this pathway, they have shown why certain combinations of nutrients expedite muscle repair. It turns out that this key signal pathway is activated via two mechanisms. One involves insulin and the second involves amino acids, with leucine being key. Activating both mechanisms results in a significant increase in protein synthesis, which translates into a faster and more complete muscle recovery. That’s why a carb/protein ratio (ideally 4g of carbohydrate to 1g protein) stimulates protein synthesis far more than a protein drink.
Oxidative stress is the third factor that should be addressed by your recovery beverage. Free radical levels are highly reactive molecules that can damage muscle fibers and other important cellular components. Following exercise there is an enormous increase in free radicals. Your recover beverage should contain powerful antioxidant such as vitamins E and C to reduce radical formation, thereby reducing muscle damage. A recent study, however, gives added importance for the role of vitamin E. Vitamin E also plays a critical role in the repair of muscle membrane damage after exercise.
So what are the practical aspects of this science? One, it shows that recovery nutrition is even more important for recreational runners since they are more likely to experience muscle damage and soreness. Two, it is essential to consume a recovery drink, such as Endurox R4, that not only contains carbohydrate and protein, but also antioxidants such as vitamins C and E. This ensures a far more complete recovery and a quality workout the next day.