The importance of sports nutrition and how to make the perfect recovery drink
What comes to mind when you think of ‘sports nutrition’? Do images of high-tech pills, powders and potions pop into your head? If so, you’re probably not alone. However, the reality is that, while there can be a place for some of these products as part of a training programme, the core of good sports nutrition starts in the supermarket with the foods you buy and in the kitchen with the meals you prepare.
In this article I’ll show you how to make the perfect homemade recovery drink. It’s quick, it’s cheap, it’s tasty and it’ll help those tired muscles recover and regenerate after gruelling workouts!
What are recovery drinks?
As the name suggests, recovery drinks are taken after training, and aim to supply your muscles with everything needed for recovery. There are three essential ingredients in any recovery drink:
- Carbohydrate – to replace muscle glycogen used for energy during exercise (glycogen is a form of carbohydrate and can only be stored in muscles in limited amounts).
- Protein – to help replace damaged muscle tissue and rebuild muscle after hard exercise.
- Water – to replace exercise-induced fluid losses that occur during training (via sweating and evaporative losses [through the lungs]).
In addition, recovery drinks should also supply nutrients, such as, vitamins, minerals (especially electrolyte minerals lost in sweat) and health-protecting antioxidant phytochemicals. This is where a homemade recovery drink can offer distinct advantages over commercial drinks – fresh natural ingredients such as fruit and milk are packed with nutrients, unlike most of the commercial powdered formulations out there!
Why should you use a recovery drink?
Scientific studies have demonstrated that muscles are best able to rapidly absorb carbohydrate for the re-synthesis of muscle glycogen, and amino acids (from protein) to replace and rebuild muscle fibres in the period immediately following training and for up to about 2 hours afterwards. This recovery period has been dubbed ‘the window of opportunity’, because during it your muscles behave like a sponge, soaking up what they need to recover and prepare for your next work out. In a nutshell, recovery drinks need to supply the right combination and ratio of carbohydrates and proteins, at the right time, and in a form that’s convenient to prepare, easy to drink and rapidly assimilated.
As for what constitutes the ideal combination of proteins and carbohydrate, most researchers agree that 2-3 parts of carbohydrate to 1 part of protein provides plenty of carbohydrate for muscle glycogen recovery and ample protein for tissue repair and growth. The carbohydrate should comprise some quick releasing carbohydrates (to promote a rapid rise in blood sugar, which in turn stimulates insulin release to drive carbohydrate and amino acids into muscle cells) and some slower releasing carbohydrates (to sustain blood sugar levels). Likewise, the protein should combine some quickly digested proteins (such as whey) with slower digesting proteins (such as casein) to provide a rapid yet sustained rise in circulating amino acid levels.
Banana and pineapple ‘tropical’ recovery drink
This easy to make and delicious recovery drink ticks all the boxes. It supplies a near ideal blend of carbohydrate and protein; the milk and yoghurt supply a mix of quick digesting whey and slower digesting casein proteins, while the fruit, milk and honey also supply a mix of quick and slower releasing carbohydrate. There’s also a good slug of vitamins, minerals and fibre and the added salt provides a little bit more sodium, which helps rehydration. However, this can be omitted for anyone following a low-sodium diet. The ingredients are inexpensive and easily available. Most importantly, when you’re feeling worn out after a heavy-duty work out, it’s dead easy to knock together and, of course, tastes great!
- 150g of plain low-fat yoghurt
- 1 pint of skimmed milk
- 4oz of fresh pineapple (or small tin of pineapple chunks in juice)
- 1 banana
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- ¼ teaspoon of table salt
- handful of ice cubes (optional)
(This is the bit you’ll like!)
- Simply add all the ingredients to a blender and blend until a smooth consistency is achieved.
- Serve immediately
Banana, milk and yoghurt make a good base, but you can substitute the pineapple for a variety of other fruits – apricots and peaches make for a smoother and slightly sweeter drink; berries such as strawberries, raspberries and blueberries create a more aromatic flavour and also seriously boost the antioxidant content!
The ingredients above will typically supply:
You may prefer to take your drink in two portions – half immediately after training and half approximately one hour later. This will help to increase the duration and bioavailability of the nutrients.