Sports Recovery – beyond carbs and protein

Still stuck on the same old recovery drinks? Ian Craig suggests that you try adding some colour and vibrancy to these all-so-important shakes.

Protein is synonymous with recovery and is the primary ingredient in every recovery formula on the market. It is important for the re-building of connective tissues and the muscular apparatus after hard training sessions.

It’s also been noted that carbohydrates (commonly in the form of refined sugars) assist the uptake of protein to the correct places in the body by creating an insulin spike. Coincidentally, the sugars will also lead to carbohydrate replenishment in the muscles.

The opposite scenario also applies: Sports nutritionist Dr John Ivy observed that by adding protein to a carbohydrate solution, there was a 38% greater glycogen (stored form of glucose) synthesis.

WHAT AND WHEN

Dr Ivy and his colleague Robert Portman, in their landmark book Nutrient Timing, brought to our attention the importance of taking these fuels on board soon after the completion of exercise. They called the one to two hour period after exercise the ‘window of opportunity’ and backed up their thoughts with some pretty compelling evidence of increased accrual of whole-body protein levels.

That was in 2004 and, 12 years later, current thinking is now slowly changing back to the direction of simply making sure you get enough good-quality protein and carbohydrates into the period of a day.

Whatever the scientists think, however, the fact of the matter is that you have now expended a lot more energy (and vital nutrients) compared to if you were a sedentary Joe. So, at some point after your session, it is actually a good idea to get some extra nutrients on board.

RECOVERY FORMULAS – THE EXTRAS

It’s a well-established fact that protein and carbs are fundamentals for recovery, but what is also quite clear is that they are only the basic components of a recovery shake. Only considering carbs and protein in post-exercise nutrition, is like viewing a TV programme in black and white. So, in the process of adding a bit of colour, what else do we therefore need or want? For me, there are a few physiological components vital to a speedy recovery from hard exercise: these include antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, adaptogens and collagen/connective tissue support.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are represented by vitamins A, C and E (remember ACE), the minerals zinc, selenium, copper, manganese and iron (which support antioxidant enzyme systems) and several plant sources, such as lycopene in tomatoes, resveratrol in grapes and catechins in green tea. Antioxidants are mostly found in fruits and vegetables, hence the reference to colour. Unfortunately, the huge pots of pink recovery powders that you get from your health shop generally don’t contain any strawberries – sorry to spoil that illusion!

Anti-inflammatories

Exercise is an inflammatory endeavour, which is normal and should be embraced. But, excessive inflammation can greatly slow our recoveries and should be modulated. The primary anti-inflammatories are omega-3 and -6 oils (primarily omega-3), but anti-inflammatories also come in botanical form. For example, turmeric and ginger are potent anti-inflammatories – taste-wise, they are difficult to put in a recovery shake, but ginger is a common ingredient in fresh juices and turmeric is found in certain supplements, and of course Indian food.

Collagen

Collagen is the basic building block of connective tissue, which is part of all muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints. The best source is from a concentrated bone stock, but an alternative is one of the hydrolysed collagen powders on the market. Additionally, vitamin C is required for the cross bridges of collagen, so again – antioxidants are important.

DIY RECOVERY FORMULAS

I used to make my own recovery shakes out of maltodextrin (glucose polymers) and chocolate protein powder, plus a bit of glutamine powder. But, that was very much focussed on the macronutrients and not on the all-important micronutrients.

As discussed, these come in the form of colour in foods and from many plant sources. With regard to antioxidants, there is some controversy in the literature about antioxidant supplementation in high doses having a potentially negative effect on recovery. There may be some truth to that, but I am quite comfortable with powdered food forms of antioxidants. As humans, we were designed to obtain antioxidants from the diet, so making up for the lack of antioxidant resource in our diets (due to depleted soils) by adding a small amount of powdered fruit extracts, is, I think, okay.

Smoothies

Take a look at the smoothie suggestions on the next page: The protein is supplied by a 20 g scoop of plain whey powder (which can be substituted with other dairy or vegan protein options) and natural yoghurt or kefir. The sugar is supplied by the fruit juice, whole fruit and raw honey. The amino acids, such as glutamine or branched chain amino acids (leucine being the main one) are provided in a powdered format, if desired. The antioxidants, rather than coming in a capsule, come from the heavy fruit presence in the smoothie and the fruit (red) or vegetable (green) concentrate product, which can be added to the smoothie.

You will of course need to play around with ingredients to get the flavour to your liking. If you would like to fortify the smoothie with other ingredients, I’ve made some suggestions below the recipes. For those of you who don’t end your session in the comfort of your own kitchen, you can either pre-make it and take it with you in a cooler bag or simply increase the fruit juice and take out the whole fruits.

Try the ‘red’ and ‘green’ smoothie recipes. Overall, the red powders are more focussed on antioxidant levels and the green powders are focussed on detoxification support. Of course, there are my components in both smoothies that do both these jobs, but you might like to favour a red smoothie one day and a green another day, based on how you’re feeling.

Enjoy experimenting – there are 1001 ways to make a smoothie, so you should never become bored.

Red antioxidant recovery smoothie

  • 20 to 30 g plain whey protein (or egg, hemp, brown rice or pea)
  • 1 small pot natural yoghurt (just ‘milk and cultures’ on ingredients list) or 50-100 ml kefir
  • 100 ml fruit juice
  • ½ to 1 cup frozen berries
  • 1 banana
  • 2 to 5 g amino acids (eg. leucine, glutamine)
  • 1 scoop red powder
  • Superfood, e.g. 1 to 2 tsp moringa and/or camu camu

Blend all ingredients and drink

Green Collagen Recovery Smoothie

  • 20 to 30 g plain whey protein (or egg, hemp, brown rice or pea) 1 small pot natural yoghurt
    (just ‘milk and cultures’ on ingredients list) or 50 to 100 ml kefir
  • 1 small banana
  • 2 big slices pineapple
  • 1 tbsp hydrolysed collagen powder
  • 2 to 5 g amino acids (e.g. leucine, glutamine)
  • 1 scoop green powder
  • 1 to 2 tsp raw honey
  • Superfood – e.g. 1 to 2 tsp maca and/or baobab

Blend all ingredients and drink

Other smoothie ingredients include: nuts or nut butter, cocoa or cocao powder, chia seeds, flaxseeds, soaked dried dates or figs, coconut or hemp oil, agave or maple syrup

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Sports Recovery – beyond carbs and protein

Ian Craig
About The Author
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BSc MSc, CSCS, INLPTA.
He is a nutritional therapist, exercise physiologist, NLP practitioner and a lifestyle coach. He was a competitive middle-distance runner for 20 years and is now a more leisurely runner and cyclist. He runs a private nutrition practice in Johannesburg’s Morningside Chiropractic Sports Injury Clinic, where he personalises nutrition and exercise strategies according to his client’s genetic attributes and lifestyles. He also writes and is the editor for Functional Sports Nutrition magazine and he recently published his first book, Wholesome Nutrition, with co-author Rachel Jesson.