Most of us know how to prepare for physical activity,
Now that everyone's embarking on their New Year's resolutions to be more fit. Weather it is a special athletic event or a grueling training session, or a pick up game with friends. To prepare we build our stamina. We hydrate. We take on extra fuel. We get a little extra rest, but how much attention do you pay to the minutes, hours and days after you finish that 10km run for homeless animals, that alumni soccer game, 5 mile stand up paddle, or that killer workout? Do you collapse on the couch, spent, and slam a double cheeseburger with fries to celebrate your achievement and the extra calories you burned, or down a few beers maybe? Well all trainers and top athletes know that the energy, and focus you put into your recovery will go a long way toward determining not only how you feel for the next few days, but how well you perform the next time. If you don't do everything you can to recover, you wind up getting into overuse syndromes and suffering injuries such as nagging strains or stress fractures. Try a few minutes of stretching after a good game. I learned this the hard way (seems like the only way for me sometimes) after I ran my first marathon in the 90's. My girlfriend and I thought we were going to walk around Coronado Island, the next day...Wrong! In theory I was doing the right thing, keeping those legs moving, gently, is the best way to recover from 26.2 miles of pounding. What I didn't know was anything about post-race care and soon was having trouble walking down stairs on stiff quads and swollen feet. I had a similar experience I when I switched my workouts to a more balance, core, and interval based routines. Which was a departure from many years of one dimensional strength training. Here are a few things you might consider after your next tough outing, pick up game, or workout.
So you're exhausted, and you've earned a few hours with your feet up and beer in hand. Don't do it! At least not right away. That burning in your legs while you were working so hard came from lactate, a byproduct of exercise. You want to keep your blood circulating well so your body can get rid of it as efficiently as possible, and you want to keep those tired muscles limber. After your workout, you should try to incorporate some recovery techniques. Like using a foam roller, a massage, some static
stretching, or flexibility exercises to ensure the body remains limber. All of these methods also keep your circulation moving that lactic acid moving out of your body to reduce pain or soreness. Runners, and other athletes from high school on up, take cool-down runs right after their workouts or competition.You should do something too. Hydrate even hyper hydrate (over hydrate) with water and or electrolytes. Keep moving, do some stretching before leaving the field, court, gym etc. Under no circumstances should anyone just stop. That little bit of cool down stretching may, head off days of discomfort.
Nothing feels better on sore muscles after a tough workout than a hot shower or, if you have access to one, a steaming whirlpool. Haven't we seen pro athletes doing this for years? Unfortunately, it may be the wrong way to go. It seems wherever you go now, someone is touting the benefits of an ice bath or, more technically, cold-water immersion. It seems intuitive that cold would reduce the inflammation in overworked muscles. Distance runners swear by the practice. They've been standing in buckets of icy water after races and workouts for years. An ice bath constricts blood vessels and decreases metabolic activity, which reduces swelling and tissue breakdown. The current rehab consensus says to stay away from that hot tub for at least 24 hrs. No ones suggesting the weekend athlete should do ice water immersion after tennis, but it wouldn't hurt. For the occasional athletes, any strains, sprains, jamb's or other tic-tac (minor) injuries, just ice for 20minn. with a cold pack after your competition. Now I don't have the space here to help you navigate the river of commercial post-workout beverages or foods that make similar claims about aiding recovery, but here are some of the basics of recovery nutrition.
Now aside from water (which you should already know you need), your post workout meal needs to contain 2 things, and it needs to not contain 1 thing. You should be eating protein and carbs. You should NOT be eating fat. There just happens to be a certain time when fat (good or bad) wouldn't be ideal to eat. This of course is in the post workout meal. Why? Well, fat slows down digestion. In this case, it would be slowing down the digestion of protein and carbs. This is the exact opposite of what you want to happen. There is this "window of time" that exists after your workout during which it would be the most beneficial for your body to receive it's post workout nutrition. Typically you'd want to try to get a solid meal into your body within 1 hour, if possible. I personally have my post workout protein shake about 5-10 minutes after my workout. The ideal source of protein to eat after your workout is whey protein powder. Just mix it with some type of liquid (most often water) and you got yourself a drinkable source of protein. A whey protein shake will be digested by your body much quicker than a solid food for two reasons:
- Liquid meals digest faster than solid food meals.
- Whey protein is the fastest digesting form of protein there is.
As for how much, try to consume between 0.15-0.25 grams of protein per pound of your body weight (so a 175lb person would shoot for between 26-43 grams at this time). After protein, the next equally important part of your post workout meal is carbs. I know carbs are the nutrient people are most afraid of these days, but honestly, they're really not scary (or “bad”) at all. In fact, they are an extremely essential part of your after-workout nutrition and play a key role in your post workout recovery. Carbs will be used by your body to restore muscle glycogen that was depleted while you worked out. If your post workout meal doesn't contain carbs, your body may actually instead break down muscle tissue for this same purpose (which would suck). Carbs also create an insulin spike which helps to move nutrients into your muscle tissue quicker. Typical good carbs (oatmeal, brown rice, etc.) contain fiber and other nutrients that slow down digestion. This is exactly what makes them "good" any other time of the day, but not post workout.
However quicker digesting carbs like fruit are the ticket after workout. I did check into one of the latest fads, chocolate milk, because so many people seem to be drinking it after workouts. Turns out it makes sense, chocolate milk provides fluid, carbohydrates, and vitamins to replenish your body's supply, protein to promote muscle healing and the sodium that you've sweated away. Plus, it tastes great where other products may not. A small University of Connecticut study found that fat-free chocolate milk seems to protect muscles better than a carbohydrate recovery drink. Though it's not my first choice, chocolate milk has my thumbs up for now, as long as the milk is organic. For non-competitive athletes, there are myriad ways to take in the same essentials in the 24 to 48 hours after a workout, from fruit smoothies to protein shakes to the small, high protein meals you should be eating anyway. Your job is to make sure there's good nutritional food going in to repair any damage. So cool down, and stretch a little, and hold off on the beers and greasy burgers right after a hard competition or workout. Strenuous exercise breaks down muscles, causing them to grow back stronger and perform longer with good nutrition and repeated use. BTW if you ever want try ice water immersion as a way to reduce swelling you should be monitored by a friend. Good Luck...
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