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Blog / 2016 / September / Q&A - Optimal Recovery: Practical Recomm...
September 13, 2016

Q&A - Optimal Recovery: Practical Recommendations for the Recreational Athlete

by Admin

ACSM and Egg Nutrition Center recently hosted a webinar entitled Optimal Recovery: Practical Recommendations for the Recreational Athlete. The webinar covered the below learning objectives:

  • Describe the key nutrition principles for optimal post-exercise recovery
  • Identify the key physical components necessary for optimal recovery
  • Apply recovery recommendations into practice

To watch a free recorded version of the webinar click here. The webinar is also available for two (2) CECs via ACSM ceOnline. Below are some questions from webinar participants answered by the presenters, Irene Lewis-McCormick (MS) and Rachel Bassler (RDN, CSSD, LDN).

What might be the best short-term recovery ratio for seniors doing intense exercise? 3:1, 2:1, or 1:1?

Irene: It depends on age and how you're defining seniors. If discussing a healthy, active 40-50-year-old, this type of recovery may be part of their training. For older individuals, this intensity may not be appropriate. In general, for active aging populations, I typically (not always but often) flip those ratios to meet their needs. It should also be dependent on how long (in duration) the exercise, the intensity of the exercise, the clients current training status (trained, untrained) and their ability to stabilize in order to determine how much recovery they may need. For example, if I taught a sit to stand exercise, I might encourage a 30-second effort and then offer a 60-second recovery.

Should foam rolling be done prior to or after exercise?

Irene: I prefer doing it before but I have lots of clients that prefer after or both.

Do you think measuring HRV is an effective way of determining whether or not your body is fully recovered?

Irene: This is actually the way I personally train. I believe it is very effective if you work with the data acutely.

Do you have any thoughts/ studies on cryotherapy for recovery?

Irene: Research results regarding the use of cryotherapy after strenuous exercise have been mixed, though most studies have shown little or no benefit. That said, many folks anecdotally indicate more rapid recovery post exercise after a session of cryotherapy. It apparently works for some, and not for others.

Do you find that using a sauna is helpful at all for recovery?

Irene: The science on the benefits of sauna for recovery from exercise is pretty sparse, though many people believe in it and have been using saunas for recovery for many years. If you're healthy, there are few apparent down sides to sauna post-workout (though dehydration is always a possibility). If you have a history of circulatory, heart, or blood pressure issues, it's always a good idea to check with your physician before considering sauna after a workout.

Do two a day work outs (morning and evening) allow enough time for recovery, or is 2 hours straight, best?

Irene: Completely depends on the athlete, the sport, the intensity, etc. A boxer or mixed martial arts (MMA) athlete is absolutely going to perform two a day workouts, but they are unique with very specific performance goals and they will not train like that all the time. The average recreational athlete may need quite a bit more recovery than just a few hours between sessions. It may be OK for a short term effort, but I do not see that training technique for recreational athletes as sustainable long term. If I felt I needed to exercise for two hours, I might do that all in one bout, but I feel like that is a very long training time unless there is a specific and immediate goal and long-term recovery techniques are in the picture. Consider a full or ½ marathon runner or triathlete recreational athlete. They will train for a race, but taper off once the race is over. If they don't, they are likely looking at an overuse injury.

Are there any situations where foam rolling can possibly hinder future performance?

Irene: Rolling to a point of pain is not suggested. On a scale of 1-10, intensity when rolling should not exceed a 5 or 6. Many individuals get on their IT band (which really is just the junction between the vastus lateralis and the Tensor Fascia Latae) and roll until their face contorts. Not suggested. The sympathetic nervous system kicks in and when this happens the recovery plan is over.

Any thoughts on the effectiveness of salt baths?

Irene: Salt baths have been used as a form of therapy for various health conditions for thousands of years, though the science on its benefits is highly equivocal. For some individuals salt baths can provide temporary relief from joint and muscle pain, and that's not something to ignore. But true longer term therapeutic benefits are questionable.

After a workout, especially a weight lifting workout, when is the best time to get your protein?

Rachel: Aim to eat post-workout meals/snacks immediately after exercise, or within 30 minutes. Research shows that not only does this facilitate muscle glycogen synthesis (i.e., replenish muscle glucose stores, which is used for energy) but it also helps with protein synthesis and avoids further muscle breakdown. As a reminder, eating a mixed carbohydrate/protein meal or snack after exercise helps improve net protein balance after exercise, versus eating protein alone.

Why is chocolate milk and not regular milk good for post exercise recovery? Is it due to the added sugar in chocolate milk mixed with the protein?

Rachel: Exactly, there is more carbohydrates in chocolate milk versus regular milk. Since it has a good mix of carbohydrates and high-quality protein, chocolate milk is a common post-exercise drink recommended by sports dietitians.

What type of snack foods in between meals and should protein (& how much) be included?

Rachel: In order to maximize the benefits of snacks, be sure to include nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, dairy and/or protein. Protein foods, such as nuts, seeds, eggs or lean meats, are great options because they can help keep you feeling full longer. A good range to aim for is 6-12 g of protein at snacks. However, make sure your food choices fit in your overall healthy eating plan, and always keep portion control in mind.

Recovery nutrition always provides guidelines for carbohydrate and protein. Are there guidelines for fat or is there evidence that fat (perhaps type of fat) influences recovery?

Rachel: Great question. Unlike carbohydrates and protein, there aren't specific guidelines for dietary fat intake for recovery nutrition. Fat is an important component of a healthy diet, and athletes should include healthy fats, such as cooking oil, nuts and fish in their diets. "Nutrition and Athletic Performance," the Joint Position Statement by the American College of Sports Medicine, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Dietitians of Canada, does note that, "Consuming ≤ 20% of energy intake from fat does not benefit performance and extreme restriction of fat intake may limit the [foods] needed to meet overall health and performance goals."1

In case the recreational athlete takes post protein supplements (whey protein-30 grams), he or she needs to eat a specific meal after the supplement or he or she is ok only with the supplement?

Rachel: In terms of recovery, research shows that there are more benefits when protein is consumed together with carbohydrates. Since most whey protein supplements are mostly protein, it would be important to pair the shake with foods/drinks that have carbohydrate in order to optimize recovery benefits (e.g., make the shake with milk and/or pair with a banana). However, for the majority of recreational athletes, formal recovery nutrition is likely unnecessary.

If sweating in a hot environment for an hour, what do you suggest as a recovery drink with no or lower sugar for mineral replacement.

Rachel: Water is a great recovery drink. Rehydration strategies should primarily involve water and sodium, at a modest rate. Dietary sodium or sodium chloride from foods or fluids helps the body to retain the fluids ingested.

How would you address an athlete eating a vegan or vegetarian diet?

Rachel: Athletes following a vegetarian or vegan diet can meet their nutrition needs through careful consideration of the foods they eat; however, depending on the extent of dietary limitations, individuals following these dietary patterns can potentially have inadequate intakes of calories, protein, fat, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, calcium, n-3 and fatty acids. Therefore, serious athletes who are either vegetarian or vegan should consider consulting with a registered dietitian nutritionist to ensure their nutrient needs are being met.

Has research shown any optimal carbohydrate gram intake for recovery?

Rachel: For elite athletes who are trying to quickly replenish or recover between physically demanding trainings or competitive events, the ACSM and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests a carbohydrate intake of ~1.0-1.2 g/kg/h, eaten during the early recovery phase and continued for 4 - 6 hrs to optimize muscle glycogen replenishment. Their recommendation adds that the available evidence suggests that the early intake of high-quality protein sources (0.25-0.3 g/kg body weight) will provide amino acids to build and repair muscle tissue and may enhance glycogen storage in situations where carbohydrate intake is sub-optimal.1 When it comes to recreational athletes, there isn't a formal carbohydrate recommendation for recovery.

Do you support clean eating more than flexible dieting trend?

Rachel: I personally support the recommendations set forth by the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines that encourage Americans to follow healthy eating patterns - those that provide a variety of fruits/vegetables, whole grains, dairy, protein foods and oils in moderation or at an appropriate calorie level (you can learn more here). I believe "clean eating" and the flexible dieting trend has good intentions/basis, but can have multiple meanings or implications. Plus, neither "clean eating" nor the flexible dieting trend has been scientifically studied much. On the contrary, healthy eating patterns, including those exemplified in the Dietary Guidelines, have been shown to have beneficial health outcomes such as supporting healthy body weight, and help prevent and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Any suggestions for protein supplements in the market?

Rachel: Athletes can get adequate, high-quality protein from foods such as eggs, dairy and lean meats. However, if someone is interested in protein supplements, whey or egg protein powders are good options.

Rachel Bassler (RDN, CSSD, LDN)
Bassler is the Senior Manager of Nutrition Communications at the Egg Nutrition Center and holds a B.S. in dietetics and Spanish from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a registered and licensed dietitian nutritionist and is a board certified specialist in sports dietetics.

Irene Lewis-McCormick (MS)
Lewis-McCormick is Education Director for Octane Fitness, a published author, an international master trainer and adjunct faculty at Drake University. She holds a B.S in Child Development and M.S. in Exercise Science and has been a featured conference speaker and presenter at SCW Fitness and ACSM's Health & Fitness Summit. Her certifications include SCW Fit, ACSM, NSCA, ACE, AFAA & AEA.

1. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2016;48:543-568.


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