If you're an athlete who trains to exhaustion, you're either fueling up for training or refueling and recovering from a workout. Although much attention has been placed on recovery, many athletes are confused about how to best refuel after a tiring workout. Here are a few tips based on research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine's 2013 Annual Meeting.
1. Improve Your Recovery Nutrition: In a recent study, it was found that only 38 percent of 212 competitive cyclists who participated chose a diet that had an adequate mix of carbohydrates and protein. Because residual fatigue from both training and competition strongly influences the ability to perform optimally, pay attention to a proper recovery diet that includes carbs to refuel and protein to repair muscles.
2. Include Enough Carbs in Your Diet: In line with the first tip, among 215 Navy SEALs who were recently studied, 86 percent ate less than the recommended carbohydrate intake (greater than 2.5 grams of carbs per pound). Like many serious athletes, the SEALs chose a high protein diet that would help build muscles but skimped on the carbs needed to optimally fuel muscles. As a result, they felt fatigued.
3. Rehydrate Soon After Exercise: Although adequate hydration contributes to optimal performance, it can disrupt sleep in athletes who rehydrate primarily at the end of the day. A study with 35 male rugby players indicated that 75 percent of them did a good job of rehydrating at a 10-day training camp. However, those who hydrated well at night tended to wake up at least three or more times to urinate. For better sleep, drink more fluids right when you finish exercising, instead of near bedtime.
4. Consider Making Your Own Recovery Drinks: A study comparing a fruit smoothie (made with milk, banana and berries) with a commercial product showed similar recovery benefits for subjects who did muscle-damaging exercise. Both recovery drinks offered the same amount of calories, protein and carbs.
5. Eat Real: Spend your money or real fruits, veggies and whole foods instead of supplements. During a 17-day study, well-trained cyclists took an antioxidant supplement containing freeze-dried fruit and vegetable juice powder. The supplement offered no boost in immune function beyond that created by exercise itself.
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