What foods will help me recover from a workout faster?

I have had a dratic increase in activity recently, going from a 10-mile round-trip bike commute to 22 miles, along with running three to four days a week and playing Ultimate Disk once or twice a week. I have been getting really sleepy at work in the afternoon and have also had a hard time mustering the energy to really sprint on the frisbee field. I have been making an effort to eat more, but was wondering if there were certain types of foods I could eat to help maintain high energy levels and speed my recovery after activities. Liz Llewellyn Minneapolis, MN


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Hi Liz, A drastic change in your fitness routine can be a blast, but also confusing to your metabolic gyroscope. I remember training heavily one summer and needing midday sleep like a third-shift zombie. I was the fittest sleepy person I knew.

Since I’m no doctor, I can’t claim to know why you, yourself, are sleepy. But nutrition can explain midday sleepiness for many people. It is widely suggested that eating small meals every four hours helps stabilize blood sugar levels so they do not dip too low. Making sure these meals are balanced with slow-burning carbohydrates, some fat, and protein will also help ensure fuel stays in the engine longer. And for those who are training twice a day, the sometimes-overrated sports nutrition establishment actually has something to offer.

Research now suggests there is a brief window—the 45 minutes after you work out—during which your body is most ready to replenish the stored muscle fuel known as glycogen. The lack of this glycogen is one reason why someone could feel not so peppy out on the Frisbee field. Given a normal set of meals, your body would end up replenishing this fuel on its own during the next 24 hours, but a person training twice a day might want to hit that recovery window right after they work out.

As for the nutrient content of a recovery drink or meal, it used to be thought that just getting fast-burning carbohydrates was sufficient, but recent studies have shown that a small amount of protein mixed with carbohydrates helps you leverage even more sugar into your muscles during this window. They sell drinks that offer this combo—and the whey protein they contain is metabolized faster than regular protein—but you could also eat a peanut butter sandwich and get a similar effect. Another cause of lethargy can be over-training (often the result of training at intensity too frequently), which is why adequate recovery is often the main concern and management question for endurance coaches.

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