By Dr. Kevin D. Jardine
The five goals for optimizing post exercise recovery with nutritional strategies:
- Minimize exercise induced cellular damage, protein breakdown and inflammation
- Increase protein synthesis and provide the necessary substrate for building stronger, healthier and leaner muscle
- Replenish depleted fuel reserves through Glycogen replenishment
- Improve the stress response to intense exercise, control exercise induced damage and strengthen immune function
- Restore hydration and micronutrition levels to optimal levels.
CrossFit has taken the fitness industry by storm with more and more people joining the CrossFit community every day. This growth hasn’t been without controversy. Most notable are the discussions about the frequency in which someone gets injured.
Having been in the fitness and health industry for decades, I can tell you that CrossFit is amazing at helping transform your body and make it stronger, leaner and more powerful than ever before. There are risks and those risks are typically increased, as with any sport or exercise, when you commercialize it for the masses.
It has been my experience that people often don’t have realistic expectations about how long it should take them to build a strong foundation of basic movement and strength ability before starting to push themselves to the limit everyday. But outside of traumatic injuries, the number one reason I think there are the frequency of injuries that we see in CrossFit is that people are not adequately recovering or adapting to the demands they are placing on their bodies.
CrossFit achieves amazing results in improving a person’s fitness because it places unique demands on the body. When you do Crossfit you place a significant physical, mental and metabolic stress to the body that it must adapt to in order to avoid breaking down. That ability to adapt is the key to maximizing your results while minimizing your risk of injury. There is a limit to your capacity to adapt to intense exercise, which is largely influenced by nutritional status. Power, strength, speed, agility, mobility and endurance are all demanded of the CrossFit athlete, which places a huge demand on the adaptive capacity of the body.
Most people believe it is what they are doing in the workout that determines how fit or how much improvement in performance they will attain will be. When in fact, it’s your ability to adapt to the demands imposed that determines your pace of performance improvement. Nutrition and more specifically, performance nutrition plays a huge role in determining or enhancing that adaptive capacity. Recovery strategies using nutrition form a part of performance nutrition and are developed to improve your adaptive capacity and recovery.
A foundation of good whole food nutrition forms the basis of human performance and for helping your body recovery from intense exercise. From there, I define performance nutrition as nutritional strategies that are leveraged to enhance your work and adaptive capacity. That is what we typically take performance-enhancing supplements for, to help you improve your work and adaptive capacity. Repair and recovery forms a subgroup of performance nutrition as I define it. Energy supply and damage control make up the two additional categories in which performance nutrition helps you enhance your work and adaptive capacity. We will focus on the repair and recovery portion in this article.
Although most people now realize the overall importance in recovery for how well the body can keep performing when on an intense training plan, they often miss key steps in optimizing the recovery process.
When you do a CrossFit WOD, your body enters a state in which energy stores are depleting, protein is being broken down and dehydration can occur. We call this a catabolic state. The sooner you turn from catabolic to anabolic state, one of repair and regeneration, after your WOD the better. To do this you need to supply your body with key nutritional ingredients. The three most important would be water, carbohydrates and protein.
Water is a crucial for performance and it will be impossible to replace all the water you are losing while you are working out. Therefore, you need to increase the consumption of your water to make sure you are not getting chronically dehydrated. This can depend in part on sweat rates and how often you are training. Regarding carbs, a lot of people are fearful of them and for good reason but it doesn’t mean you should throw them out altogether. Carbs are needed to support good health and are crucial for optimizing your performance and recovery. Why do you need carb post workout? Mainly to protect against muscle breakdown while replenishing your energy stores and to decrease exercise induced cortisol and other stress hormones that occur as a result of intense training. Protein is the key macronutrient for anabolic pathway regulation. Combined with resistance exercise you have very potent stimulation of protein synthesis, which is needed if you are going to repair and build a stronger, leaner and more resilient body.
Research has shown that when you combine carb and protein after a workout you can significantly enhance your recovery. I use a 1:1 ratio of carb to protein for recovery. Around 20-25g of each is ideal due to how well the body can utilize them. The reason I do this is specifically for the unique demands of CrossFit versus strictly endurance athletes. Understanding the scientific basis of performance nutrition allows for better planning of what to take after training and competition.
The carbs I recommend and use are specifically selected to help restore glycogen (the body’s energy store in the muscles) while protecting your long-term health. That is why I don’t recommend simple table sugar be used. I believe it has long-term negative effects on your health. That is also why I only use natural ingredients and nothing artificial like sucralose as I believe the can hurt your body in the long run. For enhanced recovery I also recommend using Astaxanthin and tart cherry. These are two natural ingredients that can help your body withstand the intense physical stress you are subjecting it to with training as well as reduce the occurrence of muscle soreness and that iswhy I put them in CrossFuel’s Rapid Recovery.
To get the most out of your recovery plan you should be taking your recovery formula right after training. This is the time in which your body is most receptive to the benefits of taking a recovery drink. I do recommend using a drink for a couple of reasons. Convenience and proper formulation is one and the other is that when you use solid food you engage more complex digestive mechanism, which can delay getting the much-needed nutrition into your body where you need it the most. If you are looking for food alternatives, look for protein in the 20-25g levels and some additional fruit to add the carbs.
I’m often told by CrossFitters that they don’t need a nutritional recovery strategy for after their workouts because they only work out for 60 minutes. It is true that the majority of recovery nutrition research is on longer training times and endurance athletes but it is still a must for CrossFitters because of the variable of intensity. The exhaustive and intense nature of CrossFit can significantly deplete energy stores and stress the body. Protein alone will not fulfill optimizing this recovery window and thus you need the carb and protein combination in order to maximize your results.
So as you continue your training and pursue getting more fit, remember that there is a limit to your capacity to endure and adapt to intense training that is specific to you. Properly applied performance nutrition strategies, like enhanced recovery, can help you increase your adaptive capacity so you can push harder, last longer and get fitter without breaking down.
Dr. Kevin Jardine is the Chief medical Officer for Nucap Medical Inc. As well as being a medical acupuncture practitioner he also specializes in rehabilitation, therapeutic nutrition and supplementation. Besides speaking and writing on these subjects he also is an avid ironman competitor, enjoys trail running and mountain biking.