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Recovery and Caffeine

Hi, Monique,
Thanks for the info you pass along in your articles, they really help in trying to sort through the tons of info that’s out there on sports nutrition. One quick question for you, though: You refer to a “high-carbohydrate supplement” in your article; can you give me one or two examples of a supplement and what amount of carb/kg you would recommend for consumption one hour before training? Thanks.

Hi, Peter,
Many of these high-carbohydrate supplements can be consumed in the hour before exercise for a handy source of pre-training fuel. They can also be used as easily digested and convenient source of carbohydrate for those very high energy days during which you may consume more than 4000 calories, or for loading up on carbohydrates during a taper prior to a race.

If using one of these supplements works for you in the hour before training you can aim for half a gram of carbohydrate per pound or about 1 gm/kg of body weight. So a 165-pound athlete could consume about 75 grams of carbohydrate 60 minutes before training. Of course the amount that you consume can depend upon your own tolerance, but liquid or gel products work best for most athletes at this time. If you can’t tolerate a higher amount of carbohydrate in the hour before training, even 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrate would be useful as fuel if you have not eaten for several hours.

You can look for a product that gives your about 50 or more grams of carbohydrate per serving. While this list does not include all of the products on the market, some such carbohydrate-only liquid choices include the Gatorade Energy Drink, UltraFuel, CarboPro, and CarboHit. You can also try gel products that give you over 40 grams of carbohydrate per serving.

Many more liquid supplement products on the market provide both carbohydrate and varying amounts of protein. If you want to try one of these before exercise, choose one that is mostly carbohydrate. However, these products can be very useful recovery drinks as described in the answer to the question below.

Recovery and amino-acid supplements
My wife and I have been encouraged to consume an amino-acid supplement after hard workouts and races. I have some fundamental concerns about the use of unproven amino-acid supplements, primarily from a health perspective, but also from a monetary standpoint, given the statistics comparing it to an ounce of chicken breast. It was also recommended that we try a mix of a carbohydrate/whey isolate for a “recovery bomb.” I am hoping you can also provide information on healthy whole foods for recovery.

Dear Edward,
Immediately to within 30 minutes of hard training and races, it is very important that you practice the essentials of recovery nutrition and focus on fluid, sodium, carbohydrate, and – yes – protein intake.

Your question focuses on refueling, and carbohydrate is the essential nutrient that starts the glycogen-resynthesis process after endurance exercise. Aim for 0.5 gram per pound of body weight or about 1.2 gram per kilogram of body weight in easily digested carbohydrates. You can add protein to the recovery mix, though it is not essential. Some research data that has tested glycogen responses both with and without the addition of protein to a carbohydrate mix has found that either strategy seems to work well, provided that you consume enough carbohydrate. If you would like to add 10 to 20 grams of protein to your carbohydrate recovery mix, that is fine. Plenty of recovery supplements provide both protein and carbohydrate. It is important that you consume a product that provides some high quality protein, such as whey protein, soy protein, or milk-based protein.

You can also use real foods for your immediate recovery needs. Please remember to rehydrate when using these solid items. When buying commercial supplements you are paying for convenience and obtaining fluid, sodium, carbohydrate, and high-quality protein in one serving. In regards to specific amino-acid supplements, there is likely no need for these products after hard training and racing if you consume quality protein from whole foods, or choose to purchase a liquid supplement that uses a high quality protein source. Some recovery food options include:

Homemade smoothie/milkshake
Whole-grain crackers or bagel with peanut butter and raisins
Low-fat yogurt with walnuts and dried apricots
Whole-grain pita with hummus and fresh vegetables
A turkey, veggie and mozzarella sandwich on whole-wheat bread
Oatmeal topped with fresh strawberries with glass of milk
Granola mixed with yogurt and fruit
String cheese, an apple and a handful of nuts
Fresh fruit salad, low-fat yogurt, and a sports drink

Java jive
Regarding your latest web article on eating before training: What effect does caffeine have on the morning workout especially with regards to hydration. Not that I am a huge coffee drinker, but my morning training ritual does include the old cup of java.

Hi, Darryl,
You should definitely focus on hydrating in what time is available before training in the morning. However, many nutritionists and readers would understand and sympathize with the need for a morning cup of coffee when starting your day. While I would not advise that you pre-hydrate with only coffee, the belief that caffeine actually accelerates fluid loss beyond the actual volume that you consume is no longer considered valid. Caffeine is not highly dehydrating, and can be consumed in moderate amounts before training. However, you can also hydrate with a nice homemade smoothie, juice, or just good old water. With limited time to fuel and hydrate before morning training, make sure that you consume a sports drink to provide fuel, sodium, and fluid during training. And keep in mind that the most important time to avoid caffeine because of its potential adverse effects on hydration is after training. So no caffeinated fluids after your morning training; save any subsequent java fixes for later in the day.

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