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On the Road to Recovery
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by Carol E. Torgan, Ph.D.

If you've paged through any biking, running or fitness magazines recently, you may have noticed a large number of ads for new products promising to speed recovery, minimize cell damage, rebuild muscle protein, and even slowdown aging. They have names like BIOfixTM, Muscle Recovery, BarTM, Damage Control, "Master Formula", and Endurox "R4". Recovery aids represent a logical sequence in trends, following on the heels of pre-exercise rituals such as carbohydrate loading, and during-exercise sports aids, such as drinks, bars, and gels. To determine if these products are beneficial, it helps to understand the needs of the muscles following exercise. The major concerns are replenishing fuel stores and decreasing muscle damage plus building new muscle tissue.

One of the main sources of fuel for exercise is glycogen, which is simply glucose residues branched together into large granules, and then distributed throughout your muscle fibers. As you exercise, the glucose is used for energy and each glycogen granule gets smaller. Your liver also stores glycogen and releases it into the blood stream as glucose so it can be taken up by working muscles. Ingesting carbohydrates during exercise helps maintain the blood glucose levels, and thus prolongs endurance. However, once you deplete your muscle glycogen and can't maintain blood glucose levels to meet the demands of your pumping, screaming muscles, you bonk or hit the wall. After exercise, there is a window of around two hours when your muscles are primed to suck up glucose and rebuild their glycogen stores. Thus, as we've mentioned before in this column, it's important to eat carbohydrates within a few hours after exercising. This increases levels of glucose in your blood stream and causes insulin to be secreted from the pancreas which further triggers the muscles to soak up glucose and form glycogen. If you plan to ride hard on successive days, itís crucial to replenish your glycogen stores after each ride.

As you exercise, your muscles generate signals that trigger them to adapt(make more enzymes for better endurance, make more contractile machinery to generate more power). They accomplish this by synthesizing new proteins. Strenuous cycling may cause tissue breakdown and protein degradation due to mechanical forces and the release of free radicals. Thus it makes sense to eat protein after exercise to supply amino acids to optimize tissue rebuilding. Consuming protein may also be beneficial by further increasing insulin secretion, thus accelerating glucose uptake and glycogen formation in muscles. Consumption of anti-oxidants such as vitamins C and E may also be advantageous.

Armed with this knowledge, it's no surprise that recovery aids are composed of a blend of carbohydrates and protein, with added vitamins such as A,B6, B12, C, D, E; minerals such as calcium, sodium, potassium, and iron; and even grapeseed extract and green tea extract. The products vary in their ratios of carbohydrate to protein, their levels and types of vitamins and minerals, their form (drinks, bars, or pills), their cost and their claims.

Is there scientific evidence that they work? Yes and no. The more reputable companies will fund researchers to test their products in carefully controlled trials, and then the results may be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Ideally the studies are double blind, cross-over designs comparing a specific product to either a placebo or another product. Itís double blind because neither the subjects (e.g. cyclists) nor researchers doing the analyses know the identity of the products (they may be labeled drink A and drink B) which eliminates any biases. In the cross-over part, the subjects try drink A or B one week, and then come back a week or two later, and get tested with the other product. The results between the two trials are then statistically analyzed for a number of variables such as glucose, insulin and lactate levels, and even muscle glycogen content. Unfortunately, an exhaustive search of the scientific literature reveals that only a few studies have been published on these products, despite the ads touting university research demonstrating their effectiveness. Some research has shown that specific products can enhance recovery, while other research has shown that the same product does not work better than a placebo. The studies tend to have different formats (type and length of exercise, timing of ingestion) and make different measurements, so they can be difficult to compare. The bottom line is that more scientific research is needed before any definitive conclusions can be reached.

Should you fork over money for one of these products? If you typically have no appetite after biking, or just have a beer or soda, recovery products offer an alternative to help you refuel, since they are basically a packaged mini-meal with extra vitamins and minerals. The caveat is that many of them contain a large number of calories and can lead to weight gain if used often or combined with meals. If you eat regularly after exercise and maintain a well balanced diet, then you may find them to be an unnecessary expense.Some athletes swear by these products according to the web sites, which are full of testimonials. However, some dietitians suggest that basic carbohydrate and protein meals such as rice and beans or fruit and cottage cheese will fit the bill just as well. The key is to try a couple of alternatives and find the one that works best for you. I have a friend that favors waffles with peanut butter, and one that swears by good old fashioned cereal and milk topped with a banana. Do you have a favorite pre or post ride meal? Send us an e-mail at [PPTCmeal at] and we'll publish the tastiest (and most disgusting) in a future column.

more Ride Schedule

B/BB * 30ish * MD * 9:30 AM * The Usual Mondat Ride from Glen Echo * Glen Echo Park (GLE)

Women * C * 32 * VA * 10 AM * Training on the W&OD * W&OD, mile 12

Featured Members
Matthew BirnbaumMatt was the Chair of the Club in 2015 and 2016.
Linda B. KolkoLinda is the C Ride Coordinator for MD & DC.