Recovery for the Elite Athlete . . .

January 6th, 2009

 

Optimizing Recovery for the Elite Athlete

As a former hockey player, I understand the demands imposed upon the body during regular and post season. I am aware of the dedication, determination, and sacrifices required to be successful. I understand the amount of time that is required on the ice, in the gym, and watching videos. I also know that proper rest and sound nutrition are key elements when optimizing ones performance. I chose to write this article to resolve any confusion about what to consume after a game, practice, or workout session for one’s body to properly recover.
Working in the supplement and fitness industry, I am aware of many miss-conceptions that people have about what proper recovery is. It is important to note that this article is directed at athletes whose activity level is much higher than the average individual. First, I think it is beneficial to define what recovery is. Recovery is the act of saving or regaining something lost or returning to an original state.
 According to this definition, in order to have proper recovery one must replenish resources lost during acts such as sporting events, resistance training sessions, or speed walking. If resources are not fully replenished then proper recovery will not occur. All cells in the human body use and create a high energy molecule called ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate).
 A nutritious diet gives the body energy and once food is digested, ATP is formed and this fuels cells and gives off energy. ATP is constantly broken down to release stored energy between bonds and rebuilt to ensure enough energy is present to complete a task.
 There are three energy systems in the human body: creatine phosphate, glycolitic, and oxidative. These systems work to replenish ATP and I believe that it is necessary to provide a brief explanation of each system before further discussion of recovery.

Creatine Phosphate system (CP)
– Anaerobic in nature, meaning it does not require oxygen to be present. It relies on our stored creatine phosphate levels to rebuild ATP. This system is utilized in intense, quick bursts of energy, and lasts for approximately ten to twenty seconds. (i.e. 100m sprint)

Glycolitic system
– Anaerobic in nature. Relies on one’s glycogen levels to replenish ATP. Glycogen is the body’s stored form of carbohydrates which is mainly found in muscle tissue and the liver. This system activates once creatine phosphate levels have been depleted and can no longer replenish ATP. Energy can be supplied up to about two minutes of intense activity in the glycolitic system. (i.e. 400m run, 1 min hockey shift)

Oxidative system
– Aerobic in nature; therefore, it requires oxygen to be present. ATP is replenished by the breakdown of carbohydrates, fatty acids, and some amino acids (Branch Chain Amino Acids – BCAA’s). The oxidative system is utilized during low intensity exercise that starts after two minutes of exercise and can last for hours. (i.e. running a marathon)Human physiology is very complicated; however, this simplistic overview of the body’s energy systems provides an understanding of the processes that one’s body undergoes during energy expenditure.
Bodies recover in three steps in an orderly fashion:

Energy replenishment

Localized recovery

Systemic recovery

For an athlete who constantly participates in strenuous activity, it is imperative that he or she consumes and adequate amount of carbohydrates. As discussed earlier, it is evident that if an individual is performing quick bursts of energy or performing a very high intense activity for less than two minutes (shift in hockey, sprinting to get open in soccer match, football snap) much glycogen, glucose, and creatine stores are being utilized for energy. Ensuring that these stores are topped before strenuous activity will delay the onset of fatigue; therefore, this will result in enhanced performance because more energy can be exerted for longer periods of time.

Furthermore, one very common misconception about recovery is that an abundant amount of protein is essential. Protein is very important for maintaining lean body tissue, promoting growth, and might contribute to a stronger immune system; however, it is not the main source of fuel for the body. Our bodies consume more carbohydrates for energy; therefore, carbohydrates are an important element to a post workout shake and/or meal. Our bodies will not increase in function if we do not replenish the resources, mainly carbs and creatine, lost during exercise. Consuming carbohydrates post exercise starts the recovery process and inhibits catabolism of precious lean tissue. Preserving lean tissue should be the ultimate goal for an elite athlete because the presence of lean tissue has many benefits such as: maintaining joint integrity which decreases the risk of injury; increases bone density, increases Basal Metabolic Rate, increases blood flow, and conditions the heart and lungs to become more efficient at oxygen delivery and uptake. By providing our bodies with both carbohydrates and creatine post exercise, the body can focus its efforts towards repairing damaged tissue. This will help to increase and/or maintain function or decrease the amount of functional loss.

Additionally, protein is the building block of lean muscle tissue and consuming an adequate amount is essential for an elite athlete. Through strenuous bouts of exercise, damage to muscle tissue occurs and protein aids in tissue repair. Protein also helps reduce muscle soreness the day after intense exercise. The longer the exercise session or game, the more amino acids are being utilized to synthesize ATP. The amount of amino acids used is not substantial, in an hour long session of exercise approximately 5% of energy is coming from BCAA’s. Although this percentage is quite small, replenishment is still essential for recovery. Many people consume more protein than needed; however, many are not aware that excessive consumption of protein over a long period of time can be extremely over burdening and damaging to the kidneys, which could lead to kidney failure. An adequate amount of protein for an elite athlete should be 1.5-2.5 grams per pound of lean body mass.

Furthermore, a post workout shake and/or meal should consist of approximately 60-65% carbohydrates, 15-20% protein, and have a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. There are many supplements that contain this ratio; however, one I am fond of and know many elite athletes use is:

 

 

Endurox R4 offers:

Electrolytes
– These are lost through sweat glands, and should be replenished. Electrolytes aid in maintaining intra and extra-cellular water balance in the body. The main two electrolytes are potassium and sodium

Vitamins
– Anti-oxidants help neutralize free radicals that are formed from exercise, game, or practice. Although exercise is important for increasing and/or maintaining health, it is a stressor which attributes to free radical build up; therefore, anti-oxidants should be consumed.

Carbohydrates
– per serving there is 52 grams of carbohydrates. This aids in replenishment of utilized resources (glycogen, glucose).

Protein
– per serving there is 13 grams of protein, which aids in repairing of tissue. If prolonged exercise has taken place, it helps to replace used Amino Acids (mainly BCAA’s).This is a brief description of the Endurox ingredients; however, it is important to note that there are many different sport recovery drinks that have a relatively similar nutrient profile. I know many hockey players consume this product between the second and third periods and doing so they feel more energetic and are able to exert energy for longer periods of time. Taking a recovery drink, like Endurox, would definitely benefit any athlete competing at a high level.
It is crucial to take the necessary steps to ensure you are competing at an optimal level. Recovery is an easy step to take and it is essential if you want to excel in performance. Any post workout meal and/or shake should be considered a pre-pre- meal for your next workout, game, or practice. This will aid in proper recovery and allow one to perform at their best!
Don’t forget, protein alone is not a smart recovery choice. Replenishing ALL depleted resources ensures one is Optimizing Recovery .Special Story to Hockey God by Jordan Watson.