Hormones, Muscles, And T Cells: Why Recovery Nutrition Is Important

Most of you know that you need some kind of recovery drink or snack after a hard workout. However, you may not know why it’s necessary and/or what to eat or drink.

To better understand the need for recovery nutrition, let’s take a look at three things that occur inside your body during vigorous exercise:

Hormones gone wild– During high intensity exercise, levels of cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and glucagon surge in a grand effort to supply energy to the working muscle. As blood glucose levels drop, these hormones work together to stimulate glucose production by the liver. Cortisol levels, in particular, stay elevated for 30 to 60 minutes after we stop exercising and continue to catabolize protein and carbs even though we no longer need them for energy. Consuming a recovery drink or snack during this period of time will lessen the degree of protein degradation and depletion of glycogen stores.

Fire in the muscle – During a hard run or ride, our muscles utilize three “branched-chain amino acids” (BCAA’s) to off-set the protein degradation and damage that naturally occurs with hard exercise. These BCAA’s are broken down in the muscle cell and used to generate ATP, which unbeknownst to most people, continues after exercise stops. To keep your body from having to breakdown more protein to get BCAA’s, you need to take in some “exogenous” protein in the form of food or beverage (aka recovery snack).

T-Cell Turmoil – Ever run a marathon and then gotten sick afterwards?  That’s because all that running (or any kind of hard exercise) temporarily lowers immune function which increases your susceptibility to infections. This occurs because cortisol and epinephrine suppress type 1 T-cell cytokine production which is vital for a strong immune system. Lowered immune function has been reported in exercise that lasts longer than 1.5 hours that is performed without nutritional intake during and after the exercise bout.

So, what is a good recovery snack or beverage?  Anything with a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. The carbs will replace the glycogen you just used up and the protein will lessen the need for BCAA’s and help promote muscle synthesis.

Examples include:

  • Cereal, milk, and fruit
  • Bagel sandwich with lean meat or peanut butter
  • Eggs and toast
  • Chocolate milk
  • Yogurt and fruit

Keep in mind that recovery nutrition is important only after hard workouts; not an easy run or casual bike ride. The excess calories coupled with lower intensity exercise can potentially lead to weight gain.

Eat up and recover well!

Protein Primer

You would have to be living under a rock to not hear about the importance of carbohydrates in training for an endurance event.

However, the general public seems to think protein is the only thing any athlete needs (insert movie clip of Sylvester Stallone, aka Rocky Balboa, downing a glass of raw eggs and pumping fists in air).

Truth is, both protein and carbs are necessary for optimal performance. But like carbs, there are lots of misconceptions about protein. Here’s the skinny on three of them:

Protein Myth #1: More is better.  Athletes need more protein than couch potatoes but there is a point where more is not better.  The average Joe-Shmoe needs 0.8 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight (g/kg) and the average GOTRIbal woman needs 1.2 – 1.7 g/kg of protein each day (roughly between 50 and 75 grams for most women). Any extra will be converted to body fat and not used for muscle-building.

Protein Myth#2: Vegan diets have plenty of protein. Vegan diets can have adequate amounts of protein if the vegan has accurate information on protein and applies it correctly.  Unfortunately, many vegans don’t and this puts them at risk for having to break down muscle tissue to meet their body’s protein needs.

Protein Myth#3: All proteins are the same.  Many vegetarians believe that simply eating nuts and seeds will give them the same amount and quality of protein as meat or eggs. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

There are nine essential amino acids that humans need for optimal health and animal foods have the correct amounts and proportions of all nine of them. Plant proteins are usually lacking in one or more amino acids making it necessary to get a variety of plant proteins each day to ensure adequate protein intake. In addition, animal protein has higher “digestibility” than plant proteins, meaning that all of the amino acids from animal foods are easily digested and absorbed.

How is protein quality assessed?  Scientists use the “Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) to evaluate protein quality, which is based on the amino acid requirements of humans. Eggs have the highest PDCAAS score and are considered the gold standard for high quality protein foods. Meat and dairy foods are second, followed by soy foods, grains, nuts and seeds.

Vegetarians who are well-versed in protein quality of plant foods and who consume one or more animal source of protein, i.e, milk or eggs, will have no problem meeting their protein needs. In fact, vegetarian diets – when done correctly – are extremely healthy and more likely to prevent heart disease, cancer, and obesity than meat-containing diets. The key is knowing how to get the right kinds (and amounts) of protein each day.

Stay tuned for more information on vegetarian and vegan diets coming soon to a GOTRIBal article near you!

To Supplement Or Not To Supplement: That Is The Question

“Vitamin Supplements May Do More Harm than Good” was the title of an article in the news today. While it’s no surprise to me that the benefits of vitamin supplements are questionable, to say that they are actually harmful issurprising…and a bit alarming.

So, is it true?

In this case, the article refers to the results of a large, ongoing study conducted at the University of Minnesota.  The researchers examined data from more than 38,000 women taking part in the Iowa Women’s Health Study, a study with women who were around age 62 at its start in 1986. The researchers collected data on the women’s use of supplements in 1986, 1997 and 2004.

They found that the women who took supplements had, on average, a 2.4 percent increased risk of dying over the course of the 19-year study, compared with women who didn’t take supplements, after the researchers adjusted for factors including the women’s age and calorie intake.

But did the supplements themselves cause the increased risk of death?  There’s really no way to know but my guess is probably not. It’s possible that women with health problems are more likely to take vitamin supplements in an attempt to improve their health and the increased risk for death was caused by the health problems, not the supplements.

However, one thing is for sure: vitamin supplements do not prevent chronic disease, such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, nor do they make you live longer.

And there’s plenty of data to support this statement:

  • In a study of 182,000 middle-aged men and women living in California and Hawaii, those who took multivitamin supplements (MVIs) did not live any longer and were no less likely to be diagnosed with heart disease or cancer as those who didn’t take a MVI.
  • The Women’s Health Initiative Cohort study of 161,000 women found that women who took MVIs were just as likely to be diagnosed with breast, ovarian, colorectal, and other cancers, as the women who did not take MVI’s.
  • In the Physician’s Health Study of 83,000 men aged 40 – 84, the men who took MVI’s were just as likely to die from cardiovascular disease or stroke as the men who didn’t take a MVI.

Are there any benefits to taking vitamin or mineral supplements?  Yes, but only for certain people who have (or who are at risk for) certain medical conditions.

In fact, the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee determined that there are seven nutrients that most Americans consume too little of and the first two are not found in substantial amounts in supplemental form (fiber and potassium), but the remaining five are:

  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium
  • Folic acid
  • Vitamin B-12 (mostly in people over the age of 50 – listen up, master athletes!)
  • Iron – 15% of women 50 and younger are iron deficient (especially vegan athletes)

Of course, the best source for all of these nutrients is good old-fashioned food but some people restrict or eliminate entire food groups, making it difficult to obtain adequate amounts of these nutrients.

For instance, those who cannot (or will not) consume dairy products, a calcium and vitamin D supplement is probably a good idea. For vegetarians who eat no animal products at all, iron and vitamin B12 supplements are in order.

But for most people, taking a vitamin supplement should not be viewed as a requirement for good health and well-being. Rather, supplements are merely intended to fill in the nutritional gaps of your typical daily diet. Mother Nature can do the rest.

Yummy Pre-Ride Muffins

I’m always on the hunt for fast, easy, healthy, “real food” options to fuel my early morning workouts. Recently I found one that is “nutritous and delicious” (according to the 11 yr old snack-tester in my household): Almond Butter Dark Chocolate Bran Muffins.

Yes, chocolate and bran are in the same sentence AND the same recipe. Believe it or not, they go really well together!

I’d love to say that I created this recipe myself but alas, I can’t. While browsing the cereal aisle at the grocery store, I found it on the side of the All-Bran Bran Buds cereal box as well as right here:


The muffins are sweet (but not too sweet), low in fat, high in fiber, and high in yumminess due to the chunks of dark chocolate in each muffin.

Why eat a high fiber muffin before a workout? If you normally eat a high fiber diet, it won’t be a problem. If you don’t, maybe start by having one a few days a week (the muffins freeze well) and gradually increase the amount you consume. There are numerous health benefits to high fiber eating so its something you should consider doing anyway.

Try these yummy muffins with a glass of milk 30 – 40 mins before a long ride or better yet, take them along for a mid-ride snack. As with any real-food snack, make sure you have plenty of water to wash them down.


My Relationship With Ketchup And Twizzlers

Hello GO TRIbal!

I must confess…I am in love with ketchup and Twizzlers.

Today I will be talking about food. Boys come and go, but food always stays. As an athlete, I am constantly searching for new things to eat and new foods to make me feel spectacular. I like to write down the things I eat, but sometimes I forget. So today I have decided to make my food journal public for GO TRIbal to see and scrutinize.

This is what I did today in terms of exercise and food:

5:45 a.m.- Drank 1 mug of coffee (favorite Smokejumper blend from Missoula, MT). Ate a banana with a tablespoon of almond butter on it. YUM.

6:15 a.m.-7:15 a.m.– taught spin class at the university gym.

8:00 a.m.–Drank more coffee. Three eggs scrambled with green pepper, mushrooms, onions, and spinach. One slice Wasa crispbread with peanut butter and honey on it.

9:00 a.m.-10 a.m.–Sat in Deductive Logic class (icky).

10:15 a.m.–Ate one Clif mocha flavored caffeine shot.

10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.–Treadmill workout!!! Situps and leg presses afterward.

1 p.m.–Spinach salad with cherry tomatoes, blackberries, avocado, and Strawberry vinaigrette drizzled on top. One Elk brat. Made a yogurt out of Muscle Milk, peanut butter, milk, and Heed Perpetuem.

2:30 p.m.–Walked to the Break Espresso to do homework (note that the Clark Fork River is no longer frozen), read some environmental law cases,  respond to emails, and blog. Ate one small piece of coffee cake and three mugs of black coffee.

And this is as far as I have gotten. I usually don’t eat dinner on days that I have a large lunch. And coffee cake. But I have a huge infatuation for salad. And blackberries; I regularly eat an enire carton of blackberries for breakfast. I also have an infatuation with ketchup…I even eat it plain. You might think I am a huge weirdo. I have also found that while exercising, my body responds particularly well to the ingestion of Twizzlers; I love them and my body metabolizes them amazingly when I am on a long bike ride, a day of climbing in the heat, a day of firefighting, or an ultramarathon event.

But I am quickly realizing that as a hypoglycemic who loves to be active, I need to take in many calories–calories every couple hours–in order to remain fast, strong, and lean. Everyone’s body works differently–and the fact that my body runs best on ketchup and blackberries is strictly personal. The fact that I survive and thrive on oatmeal, peanut butter, salads, black coffee, and elk meat is something that I have discovered through years of diet trial and error.

Every athlete eats different things every day, though a lot of staple foods are the same. Though my diet could improve, I generally feel good about my self image, and I work hard to achieve results and stay lean and mean. Every time I want to eat something like coffee cake, I ask myself whether I worked hard enough that day to deserve it. I know that many females (athletes in particular) are highly concerned about their body image. I am too. But as endurance athletes, we need to eat. And we need to work hard. And if you ingest healthy calories, your energy output will be that much greater. And you WILL be a better athlete. Like I said before, it’s all about trial and error and figuring out what foods make you feel the best.

My grocery list stays consistent, and I always find myself purchasing astounding amounts of produce, Greek yogurt, and coffee.

Speaking of grocery lists, don’t forget to remind me to buy ketchup. We’re out at the house, and I’m planning on making elk burgers and sweet potato fries tomorrow after skiing!

Have a wonderful day!