Dr. Lee, the Healthy Professor

Muscle Recovery from Exercise

Written by

Active people have been advised for years that appropriate balance between carbohydrates, protein and fat can enhance their performance. Recovery from exercise performance had traditionally been somewhat passive. (Get enough rest and eat well).
However, research over the last 10 years has demonstrated the benefits of becoming “active” in post-exercise nutritional choices to optimize recovery.

A friend who once held two “dead-lift” records in the Purdue Open Power Lifting competition once said “the three most significant parts of optimal training are":

  1. Recovery
  2. Recovery
  3. Recovery

I got the point - recovery is when all of the good things happen to muscle.

Muscle recovery involves three factors:

  1. Replenishing glycogen (stored sugar) stores
  2. Rebuilding protein components, particularly the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) which are metabolized during exercise
  3. Replacing fluids and electrolytes lost during the perspiration of exercise. All three components require wise post-exercise food and drink choices.

Research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 1992 & 1993 by Dr. John Ivy at the University of Texas, demonstrated optimum glycogen recovery occurred with the intake of a carbohydrate/protein complex drink within one hour of completing the exercise.

They chose a drink to minimize digestion requirements and to enhance absorption. Ivy showed that the ratio of approximately 3:1 carbohydrate to protein provided 30% better glycogen recovery than a carbohydrate drink alone.

They chose to use a glucose polymer, maltodextrin, as the primary source of carbohydrates to optimize absorption. He further showed that a low temperature produced whey protein isolate provided optimal BCAA content that helped the muscle repair more quickly. The observable benefit of these BCAA’s was a significant reduction in post-exercise muscle pain and stiffness following heavy exertion.
This research lead to the development of a unique muscle recovery product now marketed by a leading food supplement company and used by numerous Canadian and US Olympians including successful rowers, biathletes, skiers, cyclists, swimmers and speed-skaters.

The same University of Texas laboratory published clinical research demonstrating the value of a high quality Maltodetrin sport drink combined with six electrolytes (potassium, sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium and Phosphorous) in the improvement of endurance and the recovery from exertion.

In 1999, Dr. DK Layman from the University of Illinois further verified the value adding protein to a carbohydrate recovery meal in a series of animal studies. Layman’s studies specifically used the amino acid Leucine (one of the BCAA’s) as an additive to a carbohydrate in water drink. Animals fed this combination immediately after treadmill running showed quicker recovery of muscle protein synthesis.

Based on the U of I research, Layman suggests that athletes:

  • Consume dietary protein of 1.4 to 2.0 grams per kg of body weight (0.65 – 0.90 gm / pound) to obtain the necessary leucine to help with muscle development. It appears that leucine stimulates the first step in protein synthesis. He discourages the use of isolated amino acids because they can cause a total amino acid imbalance. The right whey protein isolate is an excellent balanced source of BCAA’s including leucine.
  • Immediately after exercise, consume a low fat, protein rich food such a protein drink or bar and include plenty of carbohydrate rich fluids. This would be consistent with Ivy’s research that led to the development of both the recovery drink and the sport drink mentioned earlier.
  • Maintain a balanced diet that contains approximately 30% of Calories form protein in every meal and every snack. This recommendation is consistent with the program I have been using over the last five years and is covered in my book “Fat Won’t Make You Fat”.

If you follow the advice generated by this research, you will recover faster, and have more energy for your daily tasks and you will avoid the unpleasant post-exercise muscle stiffness and soreness.

Further Reading

Sports Drink Science
Performance Sports Drink
Muscle Recovery & Downhill Skiing