The Recovery Snack, by Thomas Emma

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Tom Emma was a graduate of Duke University, where he was a three-year basketball starter and captain his senior year, and was later drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1983. He held a Masters degree from Columbia University, specialized in sports conditioning, was the owner of Power Performance, Inc. and published several books. Tom authored several other articles on this website. Sadly (after the original posting of this article), Tom died on June 8, 2011... Coach Gels.

Without question the two most confusing aspects of sports conditioning/performance are nutrition and recovery. What constitutes proper nutrition has been a moving target in the sports world (and every other world for that matter) for decades. A year doesn't seem to pass without a new diet recommendation appearing on the front pages, touting, among other things, how it will help you to shed body fat, lower cholesterol, build muscle mass, and increase energy.

Many foods that only a few short years ago were said to be healthy and performance promoting are now, according to some, to be avoided at all cost. Conversely, meal plans that have been universally accepted as unhealthy and energy depleting currently stand as the darlings of the diet set. Don't get too comfortable with any of it. As Bob Dylan once sang, "The Times They Are A-Changin." Before we blink a new food fad will be well on its way to taking hold.

If nutrition has proved a tricky subject through the years, recovery qualifies as downright perplexing. Even the best minds in sports medicine and athletic conditioning realize that calculating individual recovery requirements for athletes is much more an art than it is a science. The reasons for this are many.

For one, no two athletes have exactly the same recovery needs. Some can bounce back from even the most strenuous of workouts within a day or so while others of similar size, age, and athletic ability may require 48 to up to 72 hours to be ready for more hard training. Most competitors are somewhere in the middle of this broad continuum.

Second, with physical maturity, increased training competency, and age comes the constant changing of ones athletic capabilities, including the ability to recuperate from exercise. This makes recovery evaluation a extremely challenging for coaches, trainers, and even the athletes themselves.

Finally, all athletes have different lifestyles when it comes to such things as diet, sleep, and activities outside of sports and training (part time jobs, rigorous academic schedules, family responsibilities, etc.) These along with numerous other variables can have a large impact on how quickly or slowly an athlete recovers from training.

So is it actually possible to find anything predictable and consistent having to do with sports nutrition or recovery from exercise? The answer, believe it or not, is yes. Regardless of what your diet consists of, how much or how hard you train, or what your individual recovery requirements you can benefit greatly by including a recovery snack in your sports improvement/conditioning regime.

The recovery snack, a small meal containing approximately 15 to 18 grams of both protein and carbohydrates with reasonably little fat, should be consumed 15 to 20 minutes after any type of intense physical exertion. The 1:1 protein/carbohydrate ratio has been proven to provide the optimal balance to promote recovery in the muscles.

Some examples of a recovery snack include a 12 to 14 ounce of 1% chocolate milk, a banana spread liberally with peanut butter, a small cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread, and a variety of protein/energy bars and shakes (be sure to check the protein/carbohydrate ratio on the nutritional information label).

While there seems to be a good deal of solid science behind the idea of a recovery snack, before I considered this course of action for the athletes I work with, I decided to experiment first on myself. (Keep in mind that there was also quite a bit of science behind the idea of carbohydrate loading the night before an endurance event such as a marathon or triathon and that theory has went by the boards recently.

For six straight weeks I consumed a whey protein/energy bar that contained the requisite nutritional percentages mentioned above 20 minutes after every workout I engaged in. The workouts were all reasonably intense and consisted of either weight training, aerobic and/or anaerobic conditioning, speed/explosiveness sessions, and basketball competitions/workouts.

What I found was that after 10 days or so of following the recovery snack program muscle soreness decreased the day after workouts, strength and power increased noticeably, and stamina improved slightly. I did not find any discernable difference in flexibility. While it is always very difficult to pinpoint exactly why athletic performance improves during a given time frame, I'm reasonably certain that adding a recovery snack had much to do with my improvements.

While I have come to the conclusion that all serious athletes should incorporate a recovery snack after each and every strenuous workout, there are some possible pitfalls. First and foremost it is imperative that your recovery snack remain small and is consumed within the time parameters set forth above. If the snack is too big or eaten too close to your main post-workout meal it can have an adverse effect on your appetite. This can be especially troubling for active athletes who are trying to gain or maintain body weight.

Second, athletes who aspire to lose weight in order to improve performance must adjust their main post-training meal in order to take into account the additional calories consumed in the recovery snack.

Finally some individuals find it virtually impossible to eat anything immediately after hard training. I have found this to occur often after completing a reasonably long bout of aerobic exercise. In this case, I recommended drinking a 12 to 14 ounce glass of Gatorade mixed with a small portion of protein powder. It may not taste good but it will get the job done in terms of helping you recover.

So there you have it, a nutritional/recovery enhancing recommendation that actually improves your athletic performance and conditioning. Give a recovery snack a try and see how your body and your workouts respond. My guess is you'll experience the same benefits I did in the form of less muscle soreness, increased strength and power output, and enhanced stamina. Good luck!

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