Today’s post is written by one of ENC’s Health Professional Advisors, Dr. Jason Karp. Dr. Karp is a nationally recognized running coach, 2011 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and owner of RunCoachJason.com. He holds a Ph.D. in exercise physiology. He writes for international running, coaching, and fitness magazines, is the author of five books, including 101 Winning Racing Strategies for Runners and Running for Women, and is a frequent speaker at national fitness and coaching conferences.
The most important aspect of optimal recovery from hard workouts is refueling nutrient-depleted muscles. Refueling after workouts is important for several reasons, including the replenishment of fuel stores and the repair of cellular damage.
Following a hard or long workout, protein is used to repair the cellular damage that is a normal consequence of the workout and to synthesize new protein that subsequently improves cellular function. Repeated workouts lead to a concerted accumulation of structural and functional proteins. With endurance training, this accumulation of proteins is manifested as an increase in the number of mitochondria and aerobic enzymes, which enhances your aerobic fitness. With strength training, the accumulation of proteins is manifested as an increase in the number of contractile proteins that make the muscle stronger.
Consuming 20 to 30 grams of complete protein that contain all of the essential amino acids after workouts can be an effective strategy for achieving this. Good sources of protein are eggs, tuna, milk, cheese and lean meats. Some studies have found that consuming protein and carbohydrates together also maximizes muscle glycogen storage (which is also needed for recovery), although this doesn’t seem to be the case when an adequate amount of carbohydrates is ingested. The total amount of calories consumed seems to be more important for glycogen resynthesis than the carbohydrate-protein mix. Because the body absorbs nutrients from fluids more quickly than from solid foods, one strategy is to consume protein from fluids after first finishing a workout, then eating a meal later. Chocolate milk, which is high in protein (as well as carbohydrate), is a great post-workout recovery drink!