Recovery Supplements: How Do They Work?
Ever felt tired or sluggish the day after a hard training session? Legs feel empty, like there’s nothing left in them? You’re putting in all the training, but are you recovering well? Recovery is an essential part of the process.
The foundation of recovery for sports performance is a good night's sleep and three well-balanced meals a day. But intense workouts place additional strain on your body, and especially the specific muscle groups that have been involved in that hard workout.
You should always aim to eat a good, balanced meal within two hours of your hard session (or any workout that deserves to be called a workout, really). For high training volume athletes with five or more workouts a week, the key to rapid recovery is consuming a post-workout snack or drink within 30 minutes of finishing an exercise session. If you travel to your training venue, bring something with you. There are no excuses for being prepared. You remembered to pack your training kit and shoes, recovery should be an extension of your training session, not an afterthought.
The 30-minute post-workout ‘Window of Opportunity’ is when your body will most efficiently absorb the nutrients you're feeding it. Your recovery drink should include 30-60g of carbohydrates, 10-20g of protein (protein is vital to repairing and rebuilding damaged muscles, which is the reason you may be sore the next day), vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, plus enough fluid to replace what you have sweated out and more. To put it simply – get some more carbs in, with a little bit of protein and electrolytes. Consume more after a heavy or long workout, and less after a short workout.
Recovery supplements aim to:
1) Replenish glycogen stores – Glycogen is the stored energy in your muscles that is used during exercise. Ideally, your recovery supplement will be comprised of simple sugars that are easy to digest and go straight to your bloodstream to take advantage of your body’s ability to efficiently replenish glycogen stores within 30-60 minutes after exercise. Be wary of products that incorporate maltodextrin or starches, complex chains of sugar that are difficult for your body to digest. If you’re an endurance athlete, you’ll find that feeding your muscles (with simple carbs) after a long session will ensure that your glycogen stores are replenished, allowing for a great workout the next day.
2) Rebuild muscles – Training breaks down muscle fibres and recovery periods allow them to rebuild and strengthen, ready for the next training onslaught. Your recovery supplement should incorporate a complete protein, to rebuild damaged muscle tissue and mitochondrial protein. Complete proteins are the only kind of protein that actually rebuild your muscles after exercise. A complete protein is one that contains all nine essential amino acids (Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, And Valine). You’d have to consume a much larger quantity of other protein-based products to get the same results as a complete protein.
But here’s an important note: high-protein recovery drinks are wasted if consumed in the Window of Opportunity. Your muscles are hungry. They will not discriminate between calories from carbs or protein. So your expensive protein shake will essentially be used to feed your muscles in the same way carbs would. Save the high-protein supplements for later.
3) Rehydrate and restore electrolytes – Electrolytes are minerals that have a vital in conducting nervous impulses, contracting muscles, keeping you hydrated and other processes that you’re your body functioning normally. You need to replace your body's levels of sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium to restore electrolyte balance and replace what you've sweated out during your exercise.
There are easy recovery fixes you can pick up at the supermarket or make on your own, but at Red Dot Running Company, we’ve got some of the best options available, designed to aid optimal recovery. Try to choose:
1) products that meet the above requirements (and that's nearly everything we carry),
2) products that taste good to you and that you will therefore be happy to consume, and
3) products that are most cost-effective and fit within your budget, if you have one.
Some things to look at: Tailwind Rebuild (just add water, ask Maggie Guterl), Unived Elite Recovery Mix (Camille Herron’s choice), Veloforte energy bars (Forza has egg-white protein), and BIX Recovery Supplement (Vlad Ixel’s answer). There is detailed information (including all nutrition details) on our website for all these products, but what I recommend most is trying a few of them out. The Tailwind comes in small serving size to let you try it, but can be bought in larger, more cost-effective bags if you decide it's for you.
You should try different things to see what works for you, and of course feel free to contact us at the shop any time (online, at the moment!) to ask more questions!
[First published on RUN Singapore, April 2020]