Last Updated on September 22, 2015 by Jimson Lee
This is Part 3 of a multi-part article. Please read Comprehensive Recovery Training for Athletes [Part 1] first. Then read Part 2 here.
In this article, I’m going to discuss several more key passive recovery topics. Many of these you will be familiar with, but hopefully I can provide you with some new information as well. I just want to note quickly and be the first to claim that I’m not an expert in nutrition! I follow masterminds like Lyle McDonald, Alan Aragon, Mike Roussell, and so many more who are far more enlightened than me on the matter, and I would advise you to do the same. I just wanted to share some practical and scientific insight in regards to nutrition that I thought was still unique and useful for you.
- Pre and post-workout nutrition
I found a pretty awesome study that assessed many of the hormonal and metabolic effects associated with sleep performance, and its role in the collective recovery process. I’ll share some of these here.
First off, there is increased sympathetic nervous system activity when there is sleep deprivation. We want this branch of the nervous system to be active during high-intensity exercise to ensure we perform better. But if its turned on during the night, then you can be assured that we aren’t recovering properly, especially in the case of hormone balance, and that is what I’m going to discuss now.
A big area of concern with a lack of sleep is the steady increase in cortisol concentration that occurs. Normally, as the day progresses, and we reach the evening, cortisol should begin to decline and other anabolic hormones start to increase their levels in the body, and vice versa. However, in a sleep deprived state this is not the case. One subject was six times slower at lowering cortisol near bedtime than someone who had experienced adequate sleep in the days that preceded.  This becomes a major problem for muscle and tissue repair since cortisol inhibits the amino acid Leucine from generating protein synthesis, decreases insulin sensitivity, and lowers testosterone levels to name a few. 
Both the thyroid and growth hormone axis were also dramatically affected by a loss of sleep.  After a week of poor sleep, subjects experienced a decrease in TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) by up to 30%. As many of you well know, the thyroid is a huge metabolic and performance regulator in the human body. Just open up a basic anatomy and physiology book and you will see what I mean. Aside from helping us to maintain a healthy and lean body composition, the thyroid’s function is synergistic with the nervous system. Mean that a low thyroid will reduce neural activity and subsequent muscular output that is essential to performance. The thyroid can also help raise Growth Hormone levels, which also takes a hit when we miss out on sleep.
Carbohydrates serve a major role in the recovery process and are arguably the most important nutrient in being able to recover fully. I will discuss hydration later on, but without the appropriate intake of carbohydrates we won’t be as successful in re-hydrating after a grueling training session. Dr. Edmund Burke had a pretty awesome book on recovery, which discussed hydration science in full detail. The carbohydrates we consume not only help to replenish glycogen stores that help regulate performance and recovery, but they also increase the absorption of water through the intestinal wall with the help of sodium. 
Moreover, carbohydrates are hydrophilic or water-loving in nature. So for each gram of carbohydrate we ingest, it brings approximately three grams of water along with it. Not to mention that carbohydrates contain several of the key electrolytes that as excreted during training and need to be replenished in the hours afterward.
Last but not least, carbohydrates increase the release of Insulin which is a key player in protein synthesis. Insulin prevents protein degradation or breakdown from occurring in our muscle cells, and it also inhibits sex binding hormone globulin from binding to and lower free testosterone. I’ve also seen some stuff that shows it helps regulate the MTOR pathway is one of the primary muscle building pathways in the human body, according to many credible sources.
I don’t think it’s any secret at this point that protein is essential to the recovery process. Next to water it is the most abundant source in the body. It helps build everything. I like the “gram per lb. of bodyweight” rule of thumb that many still advocate, or 30% of our total calorie intake per day. In his book “The Paleo Diet,” Dr. Loren Cordain discusses the “nitrogen governor” theory in our liver that regulates the consumption of protein. “The body has clear limits, determined by the liver’s inability to handle excess dietary nitrogen (released when the body breaks down protein). For most people, this limit is about 35 percent of your normal daily caloric intake. If you exceed this limit for a prolonged stretch of time, your body will protest with nausea, diarrhea, abrupt weight loss, and other symptoms of protein toxicity.” 
Now this is the first time I’ve heard of this function in the body, and I honestly do not know how accurate this information is. But I do know that it would help further support some other long held recommendations and what not.
First, protein is primarily responsible for causing us to feel full in the short term. That being said, and its low-calorie content per gram, it would be hard to overeat protein.
Secondly, protein digestion rates vary but seem to be pretty slow overall, so it wouldn’t make sense to derive a bulk of your diet from protein sources.
Lastly, I’ve never seen a dietary reference guide (RDA, etc.) advise people to eat more than up to 40% of their calories from protein. My point with all of this is that protein seems to get too much credit about the other macronutrients when it comes to recovery and other topics. You need it, make sure to get it, but be sure not to overlook other essential sources of nutrition and their roles too.
If you are a sprinter or team sports athlete, you will not be required to consume much fat in general, or pre and post-workout. The alactic and lactic energy systems which we relied on primarily in sport and fueled by carbohydrate and protein derived energy sources (glucose and creatine phosphate). That being said, fats play a critical role in recovery still. They help with neurological function by forming what is known as myelin sheath’s around specific neural structures. Fats help build hormones, raise hormone levels, and supply us with the calories to make us more anabolic and so much more.
Hydration was briefly discussed earlier, and I’ll go into a bit more detail now. I’ve read figures that estimate our body is comprised of anywhere from 50-60% water. Moreover, a reduction in the water mass of just 2-3% could impair performance.  Lyle McDonald also referenced some solid research and evidence in one of his books that discussed the role water and hydration plays in tissue growth. Bottomline is that being able to create and maintain hydration is critical to the recovery process.
First off, I think it’s important to note that the body has several energy reserves that it can call upon when the time is necessary to support activity. Blood glucose, muscle and liver glycogen stores, amino acid pools, and fat stores guarantee we do not run out of fuel right away. So is pre-workout necessary? I think it would depend on meal frequency and quantity, along with activity duration and type. The Cori Cycle in the liver converts amino acids to glucose through a specific process.
If we don’t ensure to get adequate carbs and decide to train at high intensities, then muscle loss becomes an issue. Thus, we need to ensure to get mainly carbs for this reason alone. There is also some evidence showing increased protein synthesis post-workout with a pre-workout meal consisting of both carbohydrates and protein.  So I suppose it could only help. Also, there is the whole notion of “Central Fatigue Theory” which is just down-regulation or eventual inhibition of our nervous system limiting performance as a result of intense training. None of what I read was conclusive, but the researchers did make mention that carbohydrates might potentially delay fatigue. Lastly, I also think a nervous system stimulant such as coffee works great for increased training production through higher adrenaline release and energy production. Anecdotally, we have some solid benefit from the addition of a stimulant.
The biggest reason for a post-workout concoction had to do with capitalizing off of increased insulin sensitivity. The quicker we get a post-workout drink or what have you, the greater the uptake of nutrients into our cells and the quicker we can recover.
However, there was a study that showed the window of rapid absorption was not dependent on Insulin, so I’m not sure. Again, getting food in quicker could only help. Then again many people aren’t hungry after intense training, so it’s not that simple. Logically, it would seem beneficial, and I’m aware that glycogen replenishment eventually slows down after the acute phase of recovery is officially over. But we still generally have 40 plus hours to get enough food and the right kind of food into our body to support recovery. I’ve had dozens of athletes bulk up heavily and preserve muscle with very little emphasis on post-workout nutrition, and I’m sure many others can attest to this. We aren’t going to shrink that fast, so I don’t think people should worry all that much. And according to one author, it took three hours before decreased protein synthesis and muscle loss became an issue.  That’s quite a big window if you ask me.
If you want the holy grail on supplement information, then it is in your best interest to check out Sol Orwell’s site at examine.com, read his articles, and check out his latest guide. His guide is backed by a wealth of the latest research on effective supplementation. Lyle also has a lot of great information as well www.bodyrecomposition.com.
Unfortunately, none of the research I have seen on BCAA’s, Arginine, Glutamine, and whatever else was overwhelmingly positive or effective. Your best bet is to make sure you are eating healthy and obtaining all of the right foods in the right quantities to meet your objectives and let the body do the rest.
#3-Burke, E. Optimal Muscle Recovery. New York: Avery Publishing Group, 1999. Print.
#4-Cordain, L. The Paleo Diet. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2002. Print.
#5-Tipton, KD. Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise. AM J Physiol Endocrinol Metab, 281: 197-206, 2001.
#6-Fink, H. Practical Applications in Sports Nutrition, 2011. Print.