Monday, June 3, 2013

Carbs + protein for optimal recovery...lit review

Inspired by an old red hot seeking refuge under the couch.  10s of thousands of glucose!
I ran 8 miles in 66 minutes today at the gym, which is just fine by me, but I didn't have a chance to eat afterwards and I spent my whole work day feeling like doodoo causing me to buy ice cream on the way home today.  I just really needed to re-up my glycogen I guess.

Glycogen is the fuel for our skeletal muscles.  It's made and stored by the liver, and is our body's preferred storage form of fuel.  Think of it as the same energy currency as glucose, but a big bushy branched glucose shrub centered around a protein core.  Glycogen is converted into glucose by the liver and our muscles and this glucose is our body's energy source...but during endurance exercise, we deplete our glycogen stores and must refill with glucose.

Ideally, we'd start exercising with a full glycogen tank.

Realistically, I run on an empty stomach (ok, with some sugar-free Red Bull sloshing around in there, true, true) and I'm lucky to get more than a bottle of water or handful of crackers after a long run while scurrying to shower, change, and arrive at work on time.

You might think at first, well, if I'm low on glycogen, I need to replace with glucose, and go for pure carbohydrates (the source of glucose).  I thought that was true until reading this study, which found that refueling with carbs plus protein is a better recovery than pure carbohydrates, even of equivalent caloric value:

I love this stuff...

Especially when you are doing twice a day workouts!  With 24-26 hours between workouts, there isn't such a rush to replenish glycogen.

Protein is a superhero and aids in the body's uptake of glucose (and thus increases our glycogen stores) because it signals an enhanced insulin response- insulin, our buddy which gets sugar (glucose) out of the blood and into cells where it creates energy and is used for sustaining life.

So what does this article mean to me?  It means I'm going to throw a Luna bar into my gym bag instead of a baggie of pretzels or handful of Cheerios.  I do love Cheerios though, so maybe I'll have them with chocolate milk.  And this article tells me it's best to ingest your post-workout snack soon after exercising, within 30 minutes.  So maybe I'll eat that Luna bar in the shower then.

Other research has shown that more than 20-25g of protein at any one meal or snack is just going to end up in poop, there's no meat-to-muscle direct pipeline.  For all those guys out there eating piles of steak or the old 47-egg white omelet because you are trying to "bulk up," (you know who you are) well, you're going to get some bulk, but mostly, you're going to be making some stinky poops and stressing your kidneys.  I'd still like to sell you some organic free-range eggs anyway.

As a reference, this is what 18g of protein looks like:

3 oz can of lemon-pepper tuna...anyone else thinking of Jim Halpert?
Here's some good (scientifically proven!!) recovery carbohydrate + protein choices, no need for fancy concoctions and $$$ supplements:
  • Chocolate milk
  • Cereal and milk
  • PB&J
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Yogurt
  • Brownies
  • Brownies + ice cream (heh)
But really, it's only good if you're going to eat it...time to get creative and tell me all about your favorite post-workout snack...I personally like lemon Luna bars and chocolate milk.  I probably don't need both...I would also please like a brownie now to go with my ice cream...