What Else Can You Eat To Get The Most Out Of Your Training
(In Addition to Eating Adequate Carbs + Protein within 30 minutes!)
With Spring upon us and many athletes gearing up for (and recovering from) more intense training sessions and races, we are fielding a ton of questions about what you can and should be doing/taking to help promote optimal recovery. Of course we LOVE this topic and are happy to share the latest and greatest science and info with you to help you train and race to your best ability and continue to be able to do what you love! Due to the importance of this topic combined with the ability for anyone to spread info on numerous platforms and with (or often without) credentials, science or “proof”, we are here to help you sort through the weeds and make sense of it all. The theme of this article on recovery is antioxidants from all sources-so let's get to it! First things first, if you want a refresher on the in’s and out’s of the importance of eating adequate protein + carbs post workout please go back and read (or re-read) our article on that HERE
As you have likely heard (and if not, you will now), antioxidants help our bodies to decrease oxidative stress and damage-which certainly sounds like a good thing. The compounds found within antioxidants which we want to focus on are called polyphenols. These are found naturally in foods such as- you guessed it! - fruits, vegetables, spices, tea and even chocolate. So let's go through some of them now, to show you how these powerful foods can potentially enhance your recovery and your performance for your next race!
The antioxidant powerhouses polyphenols have been in the spotlight for years, and for good reason. Polyphenols are found in many foods, and have been touted as potentially increasing performance for aerobic activities, speeding up muscle recovery, reducing oxidative stress, decreasing inflammation, reducing exercise induced muscle damage and reducing muscle soreness. Numerous studies on antioxidants and polyphenols have demonstrated accelerated strength recovery after exercise, as evidenced by decreased markers of muscular breakdown. However, studies on long term and high-dose antioxidants (including vitamin C and vitamin E) have failed to demonstrate performance improvements and have conversely been shown to blunt the body’s natural training adaptation and are therefore not recommended as routine supplements post training. Despite this evidence, many athletes continue to ask for and take antioxidant supplements throughout early training phases (base and building phases of the training cycle), without full knowledge of how this may not be in their best interest.
Overall, and hopefully not surprisingly, a food first approach is always the way to go! As athlete's training volume increases, so should their overall food intake, and with that, their total intake of ALL foods, including several servings of vitamin C rich foods (mainly fruits and veggies including citrus, peppers, tomatoes, strawberries and potatoes) and vitamin E rich foods (mainly nuts, seeds and vegetable oils - including sunflower seeds, peanuts, almonds, dark green veggies, pumpkin and avocado) per day. Most athletes will reap the highest benefit from increasing their intake of a wide variety of foods, rather than trying to force enhanced recovery via supplementation. That said, there are a few foods we will highlight to further help you enhance recovery.
The Benefits of Chocolate
If you know us at all, you know that we, at Nutrition Energy, are lovers of good science, physical activity and all foods! So as you can imagine, we love the fact that studies researching the benefits of antioxidants showed that dark chocolate consumption by competitive elite swimmers was correlated with improvements in endurance as evidenced by increases in VO2 max, as well as increases in ferritin and erythropoietin. While it is our opinion that everyone can and should include some tasty chocolate in their life (and there IS science to back this up as well), chocolate makes us happy, can be included in a healthy diet AND may actually help you improve your exercise performance-so three cheers for chocolate!
Also, if you just so happen to have an upcoming race in a higher altitude region than that to which you are not accustomed, the consumption of dark chocolate and other antioxidants can be beneficial to decrease symptoms of “mountain sickness” due to the stimulation of red blood cells from the increase of erythropoietin.
The Power of Grapes
Can eating grapes actually help you boost your endurance performance? Eating grapes (with the skin), has been shown to be protective for our cardiovascular (heart) health, by helping to relax our blood vessels, decrease inflammation and decrease clotting (similar to the reason why doctors often prescribe aspirin to individuals at increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiac events). The Flavonoids or polyphenols that are abundantly found within red grapes - called resveratrol, are known for improving the function of our mitochondria (the powerhouse of our cells), which can lead to an increase in aerobic performance as they are associated with bringing more oxygen to our muscles. Of course you already know that eating fruits and veggies is a good idea, and that you want to “Eat the Rainbow” and include at least 5 servings of and a variety of colorful produce in your life, so here is just one more reason to make that happen. Grapes sometimes get a bad reputation for being “high in sugar”, and to that we say that unless you find yourself routinely eating an entire large bowl of grapes instead of a meal, that is all hogwash! And as mentioned above, the polyphenols in red grapes offer benefits for our vascular system by stimulating the release of nitric oxide and they also provide much needed carbohydrates and fluids to our bodies. So please do your heart, muscles and performance a favor and include grapes (organic if possible) in your daily/weekly rotation of foods to enjoy.
Another hot topic in the field of recovery nutrition and antioxidants is surrounding the possible benefits of tart cherries and tart cherry juice. Early studies touted the benefits of tart cherries to act as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and demonstrated decreased pain and improved recovery post intense exercise. However, subsequent studies uncovered that these initially promising results did not yield any performance benefit and can actually interfere with natural training adaptations of the body. As such, the current recommendation is to EAT a wide range of foods that are high in antioxidants and color all year long, and to save supplementation such as tart cherry juice ONLY for periods of time when you are already in peak condition (racing or competition phase of the year) AND seeking to recover quickly between competition events. Examples of this would be for an athlete engaging in a key tournament or competition weekend with several rounds of competition spanning several days, or an endurance athlete with an upcoming A race, or 2 keys races close together, looking to recover quickly.
When to try Tart Cherry Juice
Again, the current evidence suggests that an athlete or team should not supplement with tart cherry juice during their base or building phases - when adaptation to increased training load and volume is paramount, but may want to try taking tart cherry for the few days leading up to and after a major competition or tournament weekend to help facilitate faster recovery from that effort.
If you choose to take tart cherry juice for a key weekend or race, optimal dosing is 8-12 oz (or 1 oz of concentrate-mixed with water) twice daily; one dose taken 1 hour before physical activity and another dose immediately following activity. Begin this regime 4-5 days prior to your competition and continue for 2-3 days post. Feel free to enjoy a few pieces of dark chocolate per day as well as a variety of nuts, seeds, fruits and veggies, to arm your body with the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties it needs to perform and then recover from your efforts.
Note: If you are reading this and are currently recovering from a hard race/effort, such as running the Boston Marathon, you can feel free to enjoy tart cherry juice, chocolate, grapes and all foods high in vitamin c and vitamin e mentioned above along with much needed good sources of protein, carbs and fluid as you relish in your amazing accomplishment and help your body recover from its effort.
Whenever you finish a workout please do yourself a favor and ensure that you eat or drink adequate total carbs, fluid and protein within 30-60 minutes. Doing so consistently will help you repair muscle damage, restock glycogen and rehydrate your muscles and entire body, to ensure you can proceed with your busy day, recover from your session and be ready to train again whenever your training plan dictates! Additionally, eating a wide variety of colorful fruits and veggies, and including some delicious grapes, tart cherries and chocolate in your life will also help, by providing your body with antioxidants that can assist with reducing muscle soreness, stiffness and inflammation as well as enhancing your recovery. Endurance athletes, and dare I say all humans, should include these foods in their diets. If you do decide to try tart cherry juice, be sure to do so strategically so as to actually help your body and not work against it. As with more things (training, racing, work etc…) MORE is not always better. Our mantra at Nutrition Energy is, and will continue to be, balance and consistency + satisfaction and fun = the keys to a truly healthy and successful life and athletic performance.
Train well, recover smart and enjoy the journey!