Nutritional recovery for climbing - glycogen

Nutritional recovery for climbing - glycogen

This article explains how poor recovery can affect performance and what are the best times, foods and quantities to eat in order to maximise recovery so that you can climb day after day.

If you have read the article on fuelling for long-term exercise, you will know about the importance of eating carbohydrate foods before setting off. The same principle applies to recovery - especially after an exhausting climb. Many people think that they have been 'good' by eating plates of pasta before exercise, but then destroy all their 'good work' afterwards by tucking into fish and chips, or pizza. These foods contain some, but not much, carbohydrate and they are mainly fat and protein. Only carbohydrate can replenish your glycogen stores and, if you want to exercise hard on multiple days, it is vital that you eat enough.

Despite the lettuce leaf, this is not good for you...
fish n chipsThe effects of poor recovery on performance were shown in a classic experiment when volunteers ran hard for 10 miles on three consecutive days. They ate their normal diet, which provided around 50% of the total calories from carbohydrate - well below the desired 65%. After each day, their muscles became increasingly glycogen depleted and they felt tired and lethargic. When they repeated the experiment and replaced some of the fat and protein in their diet with carbohydrate, they replenished their glycogen stores and performed much better in the 10 mile run.

Time to eat

The best time to eat carbohydrate is within two hours of exercise. This is because, despite your best attempts at eating carbohydrate during the day, your muscle and liver glycogen stores are usually severely depleted at the end of the day. In this state the enzymes, which convert the carbohydrate (starches and sugars) that you eat into glycogen, are particularly active. It is as if they are crying out for a slab of fruitcake, bowl of thick soup, or baked potato with baked beans!
 
If you weigh 75kg, you would need to eat 75g of carbohydrate within the first two hours after exercise and then another 75g two hours later
If you feed your enzymes enough carbohydrate at this time, you can be sure that your glycogen stores will be restored by the next morning. However, after extreme exercise in which muscle and liver glycogen is almost totally depleted, it can take up to 48 hours to fully replace them. If you have an important training session or competition, it is advisable to rest, as well as eat, to enhance the recovery process after exhaustive exercise.

What to eat

Some people do not feel hungry immediately after exercise. This usually wears off within half an hour - well within the desired two hour 'window' for carbohydrate feeding. Your target intake is around 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilo of body weight within the first two hours. Repeat this amount two hours later.

For example, if you weigh 75kg, you would need to eat 75g of carbohydrate within the first two hours after exercise and then another 75g two hours later. This amount translates into about 300 calories (since 1g carbohydrate provides 4 calories) of food. 

Orange juice
Orange juiceYou can get around 300 calories of mostly carbohydrate from any one of the following:
  • One medium portion (60g) cornflake type cereal with handful raisins and 500ml milk
  • One litre of fresh orange juice
  • 500ml fresh orange juice and 1 bagel (no butter, margarine or cheese - but honey or jam will increase the carbohydrate content)
  • Six thick rice cakes with jam or honey
  • 24 dried apricots
  • Three large bananas
Carbohydrate drinks

There are plenty of high carbohydrate sports drinks on the market. These can be a useful way of taking in enough carbohydrate after exercise, especially if you do not feel like eating after strenuous exercise - but they can be expensive, and many contain a cocktail of additives yet lack the vitamins and minerals found in 'real' foods.

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