If you endure an intense workout and want to optimize your recovery, pay attention to what you eat before you exercise. According to research presented at this year’s annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, consuming protein before lifting weights may enhance recovery better than consuming a protein recovery drink afterwards. That’s because your body digests the pre-exercise protein into amino acids (yes, your body can digest food during exercise) and puts those amino acids into action repairing damaged muscles.
Both your pre-exercise diet as well as your recovery diet should include some protein -- but with a foundation of carbs. That’s because protein builds and heals muscles, but carbs are needed to refuel the muscles. Don’t consume just protein, as in a protein shake or protein bar. Rather, enjoy a protein-carb combination: yogurt + fruit, bagel + peanut butter, cereal + milk, chocolate milk, apple + cheese, pasta + meatballs. There are lots of yummy food combinations that do an excellent job of both repairing and refueling your body. You need not buy engineered protein to enhance recovery. Save your money and spend it instead on real foods that offer far more than health value, if not good taste.
If you like the convenience of protein shakes, at least add carbs to them. That is, blend in some banana and frozen berries, or enjoy some graham crackers along side the shake. You’ll recover better if you consume three times more carbs than protein. That’s contrary to what many well-intentioned athletes consume when they snack on pre-exercise protein bars, drink post-exercise protein shakes, and then dine on three chicken breasts for dinner. Excess protein does not turn into a bigger bicep by breakfast! Exercise builds muscle, and your muscles need carbs for fuel to do the muscle-building exercise.
For help finding the right balance for your diet, consult with a sports dietitian. The referral network at www.SCANdpg.org can help you find someone local.