Recovery – A crucial component for athletic success

Steve Born has well over a decade of involvement in the health food industry.  He has worked with hundreds of athletes – ranging from the recreational athlete to world-class professional athlete – helping them to optimize their supplement/fueling program.  Steve is a three-time RAAM finisher, the 1994 Furnace Creek 508 Champion, 1999 runner-up, the only cyclist in history to complete a Double Furnace Creek 508, and is the holder of two Ultra Marathon Cycling records.  In February 2004 Steve was inducted into the Ultra Marathon Cycling Hall of Fame.

The following is excperpts from an article of his…

Recovery – A crucial component for athletic success
By Steve Born

As an endurance athlete, I’m sure you can relate to the following situation: You’re just finishing a thunderously hard workout, and the only thought left in your mind is, Am I ever going to sack out after this one’s in the shed. When the workout’s done, that’s just what you do. I know I’ve done that myself far too often.

The couch or recliner (or floor!) might feel great, but rest alone doesn’t give your body a chance to recover quickly and efficiently. You have a wide-open window of opportunity immediately after a workout, the time when your body’s receptivity for nutrients is at its peak. This is when your recovery nutrition will be most readily absorbed, so before you get horizontal, restore yourself with fluid to rehydrate, protein to rebuild, carbs to restock, and vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients to perform their myriad physiological duties involved in maintaining, protecting, and strengthening your immune system and other vital bodily functions.

Training causes physical stress and depletion. Recovery is when adaptation to that stress occurs; it involves improvements not only in muscle performance, but also in glycogen storage. Hard training followed by timely, adequate nutritional replenishment increases your glycogen storage, as if your body is saying, If there’s another workout like this tomorrow, I better be prepared with a good supply of available fuel. If you feed your body correctly after a workout, you’ll have that fuel, muscle glycogen, the next day.

That’s why this article is so important. It answers questions about how to enhance your recovery, and it offers guidelines on what nutrients you need and how much of them to use. If you follow these guidelines, you’ll give your body the support it requires to meet the demands of your next training session or race.


  • Your body will be able to store more and more of a premium, ready-to-use fuel known as muscle glycogen.
  • You will strengthen, not weaken, your immune system.
  • You will kick start the rebuilding of muscle tissue.

You can really give yourself a major advantage come race day if you’ll take the time to put some quality fuel into your body as soon as possible after all of your workouts.

If you’re at all serious about performing better in your racing and staying healthier, then take heed to this saying: When you’ve finished training, you’re still not finished with training! Here’s what I mean: You must attend as much to recovery as you do to active exercise if you expect to reap the benefits of hard training. In other words, how well you recover today will be a huge factor in how well you perform tomorrow. Exercise, done properly, creates enough stress on your muscles and cardiovascular system to instigate a rebuilding and strengthening program, but without causing big-time damage. Your body responds by adapting to the stress you placed upon it. Too much exercise at once leads to over-training syndrome. If you train within limits, but fail to supply your body with adequate fuel and nutrients, you get pretty much the same thing: over-use symptoms such as weakening, increased susceptibility to infections, and fatigue.

Recovery includes many factors, including rest, stretching, muscle stimulation, and sleep, but we will limit our present discussion to the nutritional aspects. This article will cover the four essential nutritional areas of recovery: rehydration, the two macronutrients (carbohydrates and protein), and micronutrients (primarily antioxidants).


Technically, of course, water has no nutrient value, but it’s essential for performance and recovery, and well worth a couple of paragraphs here. The normal course of recovery nutrition intake will meet most hydration needs, but it is possible for an athlete to suffer from chronic dehydration. In the article on hydration (Hydration – What You Need To Know) we caution against excess fluid intake, a more common problem than dehydration, especially among the mass of recreational and fitness athletes. Top-level competitors, however, tend to under-hydrate during races.

As a rule of thumb, you want to finish a workout with no more than about 2% body weight loss, and certainly no weight gain. Weight loss in excess of 2% signals performance decline. For example, if you go out at 160 lbs (approx 72.5 kg) and return several hours later at 156 lbs (just under 71 kg), you’re probably a bit dehydrated, but that would not be an unusual deficit after a hard workout or race. (Obviously, a steady, reliable scale is important here). At a pint per pound (roughly 475 ml per kilogram), four pounds (nearly two kilograms) lost means you need to drink at least a good half-gallon (64 ounces, or just under two liters) of fluids in the next few hours. That’s fairly easy, and much of the fluid intake will come in the normal course of nutritional replenishment anyway.

Carbohydrate replenishment – The sooner the better!

Now let’s consider carbohydrate replenishment, the most obvious nutritional issue caused by endurance exercise. When you know the mechanism of carbohydrate replenishment, you can very effectively dial in your energy recovery program, so let’s briefly review your energy use and restoration cycle.

When you begin a workout or race, the primary fuel your body uses for the first 60-90 minutes or so is known as muscle glycogen, a glucose polymer that contains tens of thousands of glucose units arranged in branched chains. As your stores of muscle glycogen become depleted, your body switches over to burning fat reserves along with carbohydrates and protein consumed during exercise. You’ve only got so much of this premium fuel, muscle glycogen, but its importance can’t be overstated. In fact, several studies have shown that the pre-exercise muscle glycogen level is the most important energy determinant for exercise performance. Needless to say, to have a good race or workout, you need to start with a full load of muscle-stored glycogen; athletes who have more of this readily available fuel in their bodies have a definite advantage. The good news is that you can substantially increase your glycogen storage capacity through the process of training and replenishing.

Here’s how your body does it: Along with insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels of ingested carbohydrates, an enzyme known as glycogen synthase converts carbohydrates from food into glycogen and stores it in muscle cells. This also drives the muscle repair and rebuilding process. However, to maximize the recovery process, you need to take advantage of glycogen synthase when it’s most active. Carbohydrate replenishment as soon as possible after exercise, when the body is most receptive to carbohydrate uptake, maximizes both glycogen synthesis and storage. To paraphrase the late Ed Burke, a well-known nutritional scientist, “The sooner you do it, the better.” Glycogen synthesis from carbohydrate intake takes place most rapidly the first hour after exercise, remains fairly active perhaps another hour, and then occurs at diminished levels for up to 4-6 hours longer. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin demonstrated that glycogen synthesis was highest when subjects were given carbohydrates immediately after exercise. Depletion followed immediately by carbohydrate intake yields the maximum glycogen re-supply.

Complex carbohydrates versus simple sugars

The one time where your body isn’t going to put up much of a fuss regarding complex carbohydrates versus simple sugars is right after a hard, glycogen-depleting workout. At this time your body is in such dire need of replenishment that it’ll accept just about anything. That said, complex carbohydrates still offer a distinct advantage over simple sugars, which is why we strongly recommend using them. Here’s why: Complex carbohydrates (such as the maltodextrin we use in Recoverite) and simple sugars (except fructose) have a high glycemic index (GI). This allows them to raise blood sugar levels and spike insulin rapidly, both desirable functions post-exercise. However, complex carbohydrates allow for a greater volume of calories to be absorbed compared to simple sugars. In other words, when you consume complex carbohydrates instead of simple sugars after exercise, your body is able to absorb more calories for conversion to glycogen without the increased potential for stomach distress that commonly occurs with simple sugar fuels.

Additionally, most of us already over-consume simple sugars from our daily diets. Numerous studies clearly show that sugar consumption in America is outrageously high. A report from the Berkeley Wellness Letter stated that each American consumes about 133 pounds (60+ kg) of sugar annually & that’s over 1/3 pound sugar every day, 365 days a year! Excess sugar consumption is implicated in a number of health problems. If simple sugars don’t offer any specific post-workout benefits, then why use them?

Bottom line: Use only high glycemic complex carbohydrates (maltodextrins) to optimally replenish glycogen stores.

    A less-fit athlete, or one who has not been refueling properly after exercise, has very limited muscle glycogen available, perhaps as little as 10-15 minutes worth.
  • A fit athlete who has been consistently refueling his or her body with carbohydrates immediately after exercise can build up a glycogen supply that will last for up to 90 minutes of intense exercise. For instance, a well-trained 160 lb (72.5 kg) marathoner packing some 2000 calories worth of premium fuel can cover 18 miles in 90 minutes at a 5 min/mile pace. He’ll need to consume some carbs to finish the race, but he’s in good shape fuel-wise.
  • Which would you rather have when the gun goes off, 15 minutes of on-board fuel or 90 minutes?

    It should now be clear that by taking in ample amounts of carbohydrates immediately after training and continuing for the next few hours, you can get a head start on refueling your muscles after workouts. Additionally, consumption of carbohydrates will also tip the scales in the direction of protein synthesis instead of protein catabolism (breakdown). In other words, ample carbohydrates are essential in rebuilding muscle cells as well as restoring muscle glycogen. Studies suggest that the carbohydrate inflow gives the muscle cells the necessary fuel to begin the rebuilding process. Using the energy derived from carbohydrates, the muscles absorb amino acids from the bloodstream, helping initiate protein synthesis.

    Carbohydrates also boost the production and release of insulin from the pancreas. Insulin is an anabolic (tissue-building) hormone that has a profound positive impact on protein synthesis in muscles, and it also tends to suppress protein breakdown. A University of Texas study found plasma insulin values three to eight times higher post-workout for subjects ingesting carbohydrates versus placebo.

    Bottom line: For replenishing glycogen stores and aiding in the rebuilding of muscle tissue, quick replenishment of carbohydrates is a must. As soon as possible after you finish your workout, ideally within the first 30 minutes, consume 30-60 grams of high quality complex carbohydrates.

    Protein – Essential component for recovery

    Carbohydrate intake promotes many aspects of post-exercise recovery, but it can’t do the job alone; you need protein as well. Protein in your post-workout fuel provides these benefits:

    • Raw materials to rebuild stressed muscles – Whey protein is the premier protein source of the three branched chain amino acids (BCAAs – leucine, isoleucine, valine) used for muscle tissue repair.
    • Enhanced glycogen storage – Numerous studies have shown that the consumption of carbohydrates plus protein, versus carbohydrates alone, is a superior way to maximize post-exercise muscle glycogen synthesis.
    • Immune system maintenance – We strongly recommend whey protein, with its high levels of amino acids that spur glutathione production (see below).

    Whey is the superior protein source for recovery

    Of all the protein sources available, whey protein is considered the ideal protein for recovery, primarily due to its high Biological Value (BV) rating. The BV is an accurate indicator of biological activity of protein, a scale used to determine the percentage of a given nutrient that the body utilizes. In other words, BV refers to how well and how quickly your body can actually use the protein that you consume.

    Of all protein sources, whey has the highest BV, with whey protein isolate (the purest form of whey protein) having an outstanding rating of 154, and whey protein concentrate having a 104 rating. Egg protein also has an outstanding BV, with whole eggs rating 100 and egg whites (albumin) rated at 88. With a 49 rating, soy protein ranks far below whey protein, making it a less desirable choice for recovery. (When the BV system was introduced, eggs had the highest known BV and thus were given a value of 100. Whey proteins came to researchers’ attention later, and they rang up even higher scores. The 154 BV of whey protein isolate and the 104 BV of whey concentrate are in comparison with the original BV benchmark, whole eggs.)

    Other standards that evaluate protein quality/effect also show whey to be a superb protein source. One of these methods, the Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER), while it admittedly has limited applications for humans (PER measures the weight gain of experimental growing rats when being fed the test protein), still shows that whey protein ranks the highest, with a rating of 3.6 (soy protein has a rating of 2.1).

    Another protein measurement is the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS). Nutritionists who disqualify the PER method for classifying protein quality (because it only references the amino acid requirements for lab rats) often will use the PDCAAS method for evaluating human protein requirements. According to this method, which utilizes an amino acid requirement profile derived from human subjects, an ideal protein is one that meets all of the essential amino acid requirements of humans. An ideal protein receives a rating of 1.0. Three protein sources – whey, soy, and egg – all have a 1.0 PDCAAS ranking.

    One very important point about whey protein: for a supplement, make sure you use whey protein isolate, not whey protein concentrate. Whey protein isolate is virtually lactose and fat free; many lactose-intolerant people can still use whey protein isolate because it contains only a minuscule amount of lactose. Also, whey isolate checks in at a sturdy 90-97+% protein, whereas whey concentrate contains only 70-80% protein. Simply put, whey protein isolate is a purer protein, and the best protein you can put into your body after a hard workout.

    Hammer Whey and the whey protein used in Recoverite is a pure un-denatured whey protein isolate of the highest quality. It is 97.7% pure, and virtually fat-free (0.5 g fat/100g), and carbohydrate-free (0.5 g lactose/100g). The whey protein isolate in Hammer Whey and Recoverite delivers rich immune-enhancing beta-lactoalbumins and alpha-lactalbumins. Hammer Whey has a unique profile of highly bioavailable protein with immune factors, potent branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), lactoferrin, and immunoglobulins. Independent laboratory tests show the PDCAAS (Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score) for the whey protein isolate in Hammer Whey and Recoverite is a whopping 1.14, a score that exceeds all of those reported for egg, milk, caseinates, and soy protein.

    Glutathione: The key to optimal immune system support & recovery

    Glutathione is a tripeptide consisting of the amino acids glutamic acid, cysteine, and glycine. It is one of the three endogenous (naturally occurring in the body) antioxidants, the other two being catalase and superoxide dismutase. Many researchers rate glutathione as the number one antioxidant. Ward Dean, MD, a leading nutritional scientist, in his brilliant article “Glutathione: Life-Extending Master Antioxidant, addresses the importance of glutathione, stating that Glutathione is present in nearly all living cells, and without it they can’t survive& glutathione has major effects on health at the molecular, cellular and organ levels.

    One of the most important steps we can take to improve our recovery is to enhance/optimize body levels of this important antioxidant, and one of the best ways to do that is by consuming whey protein. Whey protein contains excellent levels of all three of the amino acids that comprise glutathione, as well as high levels of the sulfur-containing amino acid methionine. The two sulfur-containing amino acids (cysteine being the other) are particularly important for proper immune system function and the body’s production of glutathione. In addition, the amino acid glutamine has also been shown to help raise glutathione levels (both Hammer Nutrition whey protein products, Hammer Whey and Recoverite, contain high amounts of glutamine).

    Bottom line: Adequate glutathione in the body will enhance your recovery and support optimal health.


    © 2009, Endurance Marketing Group. This information is copyright protected. Please feel free to distribute this information as long as this copyright notice and EMG’s phone number and/or URL are included. Content must remain unchanged and original authorship acknowledged.

    Click Here to see how MaxGXL can support your recovery efforts!


    1 comment for “Recovery – A crucial component for athletic success

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *