“A lot of people do their workout and then drop everything,” says Ed Burke, an exercise physiologist and the author of Optimal Muscle Recovery. "But you don't have to be Lance Armstrong to suffer dehydration and glycogen depletion. If you want to come back strong, you have the same recovery needs as an elite athlete."
In other words, you feel great after exercise, but the reality is much bleaker. Dehydration and electrolyte loss just sapped your cardiac efficiency; exercise stress caused microscopic muscle tears; and you drained your glycogen, your body's most efficient fuel source. If you want your training to go better than an Al Gore campaign, you need a nutritional plan that repairs and refuels your muscles for the next workout.
The good news is, we've never had a clearer picture of how to supercharge recovery. In 1988, University of Texas researcher John Ivy discovered the glycogen window—a one-hour period immediately following intense exercise when athletes have the best chance of replenishing lost glycogen. What's more, he found that consuming carbohydrates and protein in a four-to-one ratio during that window makes athletes up to four times more efficient at synthesizing carbs into glycogen. Take in the right kind of food or drink immediately following your workout and you can replace all the energy needed to come back strong each day.
We know you're busy, but sticking to the following two-part, postworkout nutrition strategy will be the difference between a sustainable plan and one that leaves you on the couch munching Cheetos in two weeks.
After an Intense Workout, Down a Liter of Pre-Mixed Recovery Drink
The best of the new wave of recovery drinks—Endurox R4, SmartFuel BioFix, and Hammer Pro—combine Ivy's four-to-one carbohydrate-to-protein formula in an easy-to-mix powder. In one shot you'll address three of recovery's most important factors—water, glycogen, and electrolytes. Purchase these at your local GNC or specialty cycling shop.
Consume a Recovery Meal 2 to 4 Hours After You Work Out
Follow your recovery drink in the glycogen window with a meal consisting of 65 percent carbs, 20 percent fat, and 15 percent protein to further replace your glycogen stores. Don't get bogged down in the numbers—here are four great examples: pasta with olive oil and tuna, a bean or chicken burrito (easy on the cheese), a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread, a bagel with cream cheese.