Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Recovery Drinks: Why, What, and How?

So, recently I've had an opportunity to work with a sports nutritionist.  She had a few tips for me on how to optimize my nutrition.

One of the questions I went to her with was something like "So, when I'm training I get seriously, no screwing around, ravenously tear-the-doors-off-the-fridge hungry and stay that way all day...how do I fix that?"

After analyzing my normal food logs, she asked me about my recovery protocol.  My response was something like "Well, for a big 4 hour bike I'll usually hit up a smoothie or a bar, but for the 1 hour runs I just take a shower and get breakfast."

The nutritionist really keyed in on this.  She suggested that missing out on those recovery calories might be firing off some wierd signal to devour everything in sight.  It sounded really odd.  I'm a calories in/calories out kind of guy and besides I want those workout calories for fun food later on...

But here's the thing.  The next day I got about 180 or so calories in immeidately post work out and guess what?  I didn't have to remove any fridge doors.  It worked.  Did I feel more recovered or less sore or anything?  No, not really in a noticable way, but hey I wasn't starving the rest of the day.  I can't explain why it works, and the nutritionist really couldn't either, at least in the peer reviewed "prove it and cite your sources" kinda way I operate, but it does...for me at least.  For me, recovery drinks are now the difference between being very uncomfortable all day as a calorie restricted athlete, and not. 

Okay, so I need a recovery drink immediately after a workout.  I can do that. 

So, recovery nutrition is important for me, and you might be thinking it is for you too, if you've read this far.  So, what should you drink?

First of all, why should it be a drink?  As a long time dieter I know that one of the golden rules of dieting is to not drink your calories.  So, why would you want to drink calories?  The answer is you want to get those carbohydrates into your blood stream as soon as humanly possible.  Liquid is ideal.  Solid is ok too of course.

Ok, so you want to drink a liquid.  Other than water, what should it have it in.  Well, mostly carbohydrate.  After exercise you're very insulin sensitive, which means that CHO will be whisked away quickly into cells that need it.  A little protein helps increase the rate of muscle glycogen resynthesis.   


Well, if you know anything about me you know I'm anti "food with labels."  I like real, unprocessed food, as much as possible.

So, what is minimally processed, has carbohydrate and protein, and doesn't leave you with a glass full of "wow, I wish this was something that tasted good."

Well, I'm a big fan of smoothies with banana, whey  protein, and cocoa powder with some BCAAs and glutamine thrown in.  But...that's alot of work for a tuesday morning run before work.  That's great sometimes, but it's not fast.

So then you have chocolate milk.  Chocolate Milk is goodness, and if you buy it in the small aseptic containers that don't have to be refrigerated it's a little more convenient if you're at the gym.  It tastes good.  It doesn't have Glutamine in it, which I do kind of like for recovery.  Also, it's not exactly minimally processed.  Look at the ingredient label on most of the premixed stuff.  It's extensive to say the least, and there is bad news in there for the HFCSaphobes amongst us as well.

That leads me to Fluid Recovery Drink.  I'm a big fan.  In fact I'm a big enough fan of their ingredient list, or rather their lack of one.  I made a HUGE spreadsheet of all the recovery drinks out there, and compared/contrasted.  There are a few decent drinks out there in the market, but in my opinion Fluid is the best.  Here's why I think that:

  • Like any recovery drink mix, they're uber convenient post workout
  • The chocolate flavor tastes awesome because it has...get this...real chocolate in it!
  • The price / serving is very reasonable
  • There is nothing herbal or otherwise weird in it, so my pharmacist wife won't chase me around the house asking me how I really know that cactus bark and monkey tears are safe to ingest (It's totally happened).
In fact, here is the ingredient list for Chocolate Fluid Recovery Drink:

Maltodextrin, Dextrose, Fructose, Whey Protein Isolate, L-Glutamine, Natural Cocoa, Chocolate Natural Flavor, Sodium Citrate, Organic Vanilla Flavor, Xanthan Gum, Ascorbic Acid, Soy lecithin, Potassium Chloride.

A broad spectrum of sugars, protein, L-Glutamine, flavoring, electrolytes, Vitamin C, and a thickener/emulsifier.  That's it. 

Full Disclosure/Fine Print:  Fluid did offer me a sponsorship this season so of course that creates some bias, but I approached them because I liked their product.

So anyway, I'll get off my soap box now, but if you're finding yourself ravenously hungry, low on energy, and generally feeling kinda crappy all day long while training hard, especially if you're running a (reasonable) calorie deficit give a recovery drink a shot.

Here's my advice, executive summary style:

  1. Drink your recovery drink while you're still sweaty, but don't sit on the couch while you do it, that's just gross.
  2. Shoot for some carbs and protein, and try adding in some L-Gluatmine.
  3. Drink real food first, but when you're on the go give Fluid Recovery Drink a shot!

1 comment:

  1. Sports nutritionist? That's just awesome. Glad you were able to get some good questions answered.