We sit down with Dr Tim Podlogar, head of our science department, nutrition savant, and cycling aficionado, to discuss one of the most important, and sometimes neglected, aspects of post-training muscle recovery – yes, you guessed it, it’s nutrition. Or food, whichever term you prefer.
Tim, What is the biggest mistake inexperienced athletes make after a training session?
It’s nutrition. They get home, take a shower, clean their gear, and only then they start preparing their meal. And this is not ideal as immediately after exercise, the muscles are most susceptible to store carbohydrates as glycogen.
That’s why it’s very important that carbohydrates are available immediately after training. This becomes even more important if we train every day or more than once a day. But it is not just about carbohydrates. The next essential nutrient is protein. Proteins are essential for adaptations and recovery, but they also help with replenishment of muscle glycogen stores.
Which one is more important, carbohydrates or protein?
I was one of the lecturers at a conference about macronutrients. Each macronutrient (that is fat, protein, and carbohydrates) had its own lecturer. My task was to provide an overview about carbohydrates. My talk started with the idea that for an endurance athlete, carbohydrates are the most important. Controversial? Yes. But is it true? Very likely.
I am aware that in theory carbohydrates are not essential, but they allow the athlete to work at a high intensity or, as I like to say, allow them to reach their full potential. Of course, this applies to the period of intense strain. In other conditions, too many carbohydrates may slow down muscle adaptations.
If we consider long-term adaptations, protein is the most important. That’s because our muscles are made of protein.
But we still need carbohydrates?
Yes. If there is not enough carbohydrates, the intake of protein will not prevent athletes from overtraining or allow them to get better especially if the competition demands high intensity efforts.
The problem is that protein is not a great source of energy, as it must first be transformed into carbohydrates, which requires a lot of energy. A high intake of protein will also not help with recovery as far as protein synthesis goes, as the synthesis is best stimulated with an intake of as few as 20 to 30 grams of quality protein.
Protein and carbohydrates then – but in what amount? Does it matter?
Absolutely. This is where it gets interesting.
Generally speaking, an intake of about 70 to 80 grams of carbohydrates per hour is recommended in time of recovery. This way we replenish muscle glycogen as fast as possible.
As for protein, it makes sense to intake around 20 to 30 grams of high quality protein immediately after training, such as whey protein powder. Interestingly, research shows that if we combine the intake of protein and carbohydrates, then a somewhat lower amount of carbohydrates is sufficient.
Why is sugar so important?
It’s very simple, really. The brain needs glucose to function. If there is no glucose because we spent it all during physical activity, the body will start to preserve energy by slowly shutting down unnecessary functions, and it will also start using protein, that is our muscles, to create new glucose.
This is not good. Not as far as progress goes, not as far as the immune reaction goes. Research is also quite clear that a sufficient intake of carbohydrates helps prevent overtraining. Isn’t that reason enough for a sufficient intake of carbohydrates?
What happens if we don’t consume enough calories?
The body recognises a caloric deficit and reacts in such a way to preserve only the most necessary life functions. Adaptations to training are not one of them.
Are supplements more efficient than a regular meal?
If an athlete could consume a wholesome meal immediately after training, that would be ok, but most athletes can’t afford that.
When an athlete trains every day and even more times per day, it is extremely important they ingest food immediately after training – 30 minutes after training is not immediately. Otherwise, muscle recovery and the immune system will both be negatively affected.
I am convinced that the immune system drop of athletes is most often related to insufficient energy intake and almost never to insufficient intake of fruit or vegetables.
Many parents don’t want to buy a recovery drink for their children claiming they are too young for supplements.
There’s a difference between supplements and readily-available food.
A recovery drink is nothing but a readily-available source of quality nutrients required by athletes, and this includes young athletes as well: carbohydrates for energy, protein for recovery, and electrolytes for rehydration. That’s it.
Is this why Regen recovery drink, which you helped develop, contains 50 grams of carbohydrates and 30 grams of protein? So far, the golden rule has been 4:1 in favour of carbs.
Similarly to Ndure, Regen was created on the basis of previous experience with athletes and my own professional knowledge. There had been simply no ideal after-training product on the market to meet my pretty high standards (laughs).
I wanted a product which includes an optimal combination of different types of carbohydrates and a quality source of protein, while also being a rehydration drink.
Products so far available on the market were really based on certain ratios between carbohydrates and protein. But if we look at it from the perspective of muscle protein or glycogen synthesis, we see we never talk about ratios but absolute numbers.
For endurance athletes, 30 grams of protein should be optimal and that was our starting point. Then we added 50 grams of carbohydrates, which wouldn’t be enough without protein to raise insulin. In combination, the drink functions optimally. If we added more carbohydrates, we wouldn’t gain anything – only a higher caloric intake.
You mention the optimal combination of carbohydrates, is there such a thing?
The guidelines of most large sports organisations still recommend only readily-available carbohydrates, but they do not specify exactly which carbohydrates are optimal although it has been known for some time that a combination of more types of sugar is better than a single source.
We must know that most carbohydrates in nature consist of glucose molecules. We get fructose from fruit and table sugar, and galactose from dairy products. The metabolism of fructose and galactose is different from that of glucose, as these two sugars must first go through the liver to transform before being useful for other tissues. This is why it’s not surprising that a combination of fructose and glucose or galactose and glucose is most efficient to replenish liver glycogen.
When I was studying in Birmingham, we were the first to prove that a combination of fructose and glucose is better for recovery of endurance athletes. Regen contains maltodextrin and fructose in a 1:0.8 ratio, which should be close to the optimal amount.
What did you improve with Regen – Prototype 2?
When making the original Reg-N – Prototype 1, it was essential that we select a really high-quality source of protein. We had chosen the alpha and omega of all protein formulas, the whey concentrate. It is the most researched source of protein.
Regarding recovery, there is no scientific proof that isolate is better. The concentrate also has better taste, but this couldn’t be the selection criterion, that’s why we decided to create a prototype. The only issue with the concentrate is the presence of lactose, which some people can’t digest. That’s why we added lactase, the enzyme which helps digest lactose.
We had received some amazing feedback regarding Prototype 1, but unfortunately, despite lactase being added, many people had digestive issues. So we decided to switch to whey protein isolate for Prototype 2. I was anticipating this might be a necessary move, so all is good. Of course, the next thing we had to deal with is taste.
Is taste an issue?
As I said, generally speaking, whey protein concentrate tastes better then isolate. At least this is what we often hear. So we set ourselves a challenge. Do a great tasting recovery drink with whey isolate. We have been working really hard, and I think we managed to make Prototype 2 taste even better than Prototype 1.
Now all we need is your feedback!