Wednesday, April 11, 2007

My Favorite Recovery Drink

During my last bike ride, I was asked “Is it true that chocolate milk is a good recovery drink?” The answer is yes. A study published in the February 2006 issue of the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, and funded in part by the dairy industry, reported that cyclists who drank chocolate milk at a break were able to continue cycling about 50% longer than those who drank Endurox R4 and about equally as long as those who drank Gatorade.

In three trials administered at one-week intervals, nine male endurance trained cyclists performed an interval workout then drank one of three drinks after 2 hours of recovery. One group got standard 2% chocolate milk, another drank fluid- and electrolyte-replenishing Gatorade and a third group Endurox R4, a specially formulated beverage with a "patented 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein" and other ingredients aimed at replenishing muscle glycogen stores and helping rebuild muscle. Four hours later they performed an endurance trial to exhaustion at 70% VO2max.

So what does that mean to us? If you are a male endurance trained cyclist, chances are that chocolate milk is a good recovery drink. Remember, this is only one study with a very small sample size. However, I do recommend chocolate milk to all my athletes as a recovery drink. Why? It contains carbohydrates that are needed to refuel the muscles. It also contains protein that provides amino acids for building and repairing of muscle tissues. Also, a little protein might give an athlete a performance edge by enhancing the insulin release, which aids in the transport of carbohydrates to the muscles. It contains calcium, a nutrient that most adults don’t get enough of. And it tastes good!

The period after a ride is important to the recovery of our muscle tissues and replenishment of energy stores. Some studies suggest a ratio of 4:1 carbohydrates to proteins. This is a good guideline. More specifically, after a long, fast ride follow these guidelines (Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals: 4th edition, American Dietetic Association, Marie Dunford, editor, copyright 2006):

* Drink 16-24 ounces sports drink for every pound of body weight lost. (Note: the fluid contributes to your carbohydrate and protein needs listed below.)
* Eat 1-1.2 grams carbohydrate per kilogram bodyweight within the 1st 30 minutes and at 2 hour intervals thereafter.
* Include 6-20 grams protein within the 1st 30 minutes then a mixed meal 2 hours later.
* Fat intake should be minimal for 2-4 hours.
(Divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to calculate kilograms)

To estimate the amount of carbohydrates and protein in a food, you can use this guide:
* Starches including ½ bagel, 1 slice break, ¾ cup cereal, ¼ cup granola, ½ cup cooked pasta, ½ cup corn or peas, 1 small potato, ½ cup beans or lentils, or 1/3 cup cooked rice contain 15 grams carbohydrate and 3 grams protein.
* 1 cup of milk, ¾ cup plain yogurt or 1 cup sweetened yogurt contains 12 grams carbohydrate and 8 grams protein. 1 cup soy milk contains 5-8 grams carbohydrates and 7 grams protein.
* ½ cup cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 1 cup raw vegetables contains 5 grams carbohydrate and 2 grams protein.
* 1 small to medium fresh fruit, ½ cup fresh fruit or fruit juice, or ¼ cup dried fruit contains 15 grams carbohydrate and no protein.
* Meats and meat substitutes (1 oz meat, fish, poultry or cheese, or ½ cup beans, peas or lentils) contain 7 grams protein. ½ cup beans contains 6 grams carbohydrate. 2 tablespoons of nut butter contain 8 grams of protein and 6 grams carbohydrate. Meat, poultry, pork, and fish do not contain carbohydrates. The amount of carbohydrate in cheese is minimal.
(To find out more nutritional facts for a particularly food, see

If you are a small person (like me), you may only need 50 grams of carbohydrates after a ride. I usually eat a low-fat plain yogurt, a small piece of fruit and a cup of chocolate (non-fat) milk. Most average sized people will need almost double this amount. But consuming that much after a ride is sometimes difficult. Often our appetite is suppressed. So I recommend blending a drink of low-fat milk, plain yogurt and fruit. Or you can try a specially developed recovery drink. Other options are Ensure and energy bars with a 4:1 ratio carbs to protein. Or a glass of chocolate milk. (Note: Soy milk does not contain the 4:1 ratio since it only contains 5-8 grams of carbs vs cow’s milk of 12 grams. But if do not drink cow’s milk, soy milk is an adequate substitute – make sure you purchase soy milk with added calcium and vitamin D.)

Eat well to ride strong!