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by The Professionals at Hammer Nutrition

January 3, 2011

Recovery: A Crucial Component for Successful Swimming

Training causes physical stress and depletion. Recovery is when adaptation to that stress occurs; it involves improvements in muscle tissue rebuilding, glycogen storage, and immune system functioning. After a hard swim practice your body is basically saying, “If there’s another workout like this tomorrow, I’d better be prepared.”

It’s up to you to provide the nutrition your body is crying out for, and when you do give your body what it needs as soon as possible after a swim workout or race, it will respond wonderfully in the following ways:

  • Your body will be able to store more and more of a premium, ready-to-use fuel known as muscle glycogen.
  • You will strengthen, not weaken, your immune system.
  • You will “kick start” the rebuilding of muscle tissue.

Bottom line: You can really give yourself a major advantage in all of your swim practices, and especially on race day, if you'll take the time to put some quality nutrition into your body as soon as possible after all of your workouts.

What to Do

Replenish

Replenish your body with complex carbohydrates within the first 60 minutes after all of your workouts – When you begin a swim practice or race, the primary fuel your body uses for the first 60–90 minutes or so is known as muscle glycogen. You've got a finite amount of this premium fuel, but its importance can't be overstated. In fact, several studies have shown that the pre–exercise muscle glycogen level is the most important energy determinant for exercise performance. Needless to say, to have a good swim workout or race, you need to start with a full load of muscle–stored glycogen; athletes who have more of this readily available fuel in their bodies have a definite advantage. The good news is that you can substantially increase your glycogen storage capacity through the process of training and replenishing. Here’s how:

Along with insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels of ingested carbohydrates, an enzyme known as glycogen synthase converts carbohydrates from food into glycogen and stores it in muscle cells. This also drives the muscle repair and rebuilding process. However, to maximize the recovery process, you need to take advantage of glycogen synthase when it's most active. Carbohydrate replenishment as soon as possible after exercise, when the body is most receptive to carbohydrate uptake, maximizes both glycogen synthesis and storage. Glycogen synthesis from carbohydrate intake takes place most rapidly the first hour after exercise, remains fairly active perhaps another hour, and then occurs at diminished levels for up to 4–6 hours longer. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin demonstrated that glycogen synthesis was highest when subjects were given carbohydrates immediately after exercise.

Bottom line: Your swim workout or race truly isn’t over, not until you’ve put some high-quality carbohydrates back into your body as soon as possible after their completion. Give post-workout refueling as much importance as what you do in the actual swim practice or race and you will most assuredly reap noticeably positive benefits.

Include Protein

Be sure to include protein, along with complex carbohydrates, in your post-workout/race fuel or meal – Carbohydrate intake promotes many aspects of post–exercise recovery, but it can't do the job alone; you need protein as well. Protein in your post–workout fuel provides these benefits:

  • Raw materials to rebuild stressed muscles – Whey protein isolate is the premier protein source of the three branched chain amino acids (BCAAs – leucine, isoleucine, valine) used for muscle tissue repair.
  • Enhanced glycogen storage – Numerous studies have shown that the consumption of carbohydrates plus protein, versus carbohydrates alone, is a superior way to maximize post–exercise muscle glycogen synthesis.
  • Immune system maintenance – We strongly recommend whey protein isolate, with its high levels of amino acids that spur the production of glutathione, arguably the most potent antioxidant there is.

Resupply Vitamins and Minerals

Resupply your body with vitamins, minerals and (especially) antioxidants – After a tough workout or race your body is begging for nutrient support. You’ve depleted it, now you must replenish!

As important, if not more so, however, is the consumption of a wide variety of antioxidants, which help protect the body from the damaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals (of which there are several types) are unstable atoms or molecules, usually of oxygen, containing at least one unpaired electron. Left unchecked, free radicals seek out and literally steal electrons from whole atoms or molecules, creating a destructive chain reaction. Excess free radicals, in the words of one nutritional scientist, “are capable of damaging virtually any biomolecule, including proteins, sugars, fatty acids, and nucleic acids.”

Those words should sound the alarm bells loud and clear, because as a swimmer you consume huge amounts of oxygen and metabolize far greater amounts of calories than a sedentary person does. This means that you're generating free radicals on the order of 12–20 times more than non–athletes! During periods of peak swim training periods and racing stress, free radical production increases even more. While the benefits of your swim training sessions and races far outweigh the potential negatives caused by free radicals, excess free radical production and accumulation, if not properly resolved, may very well be a swimmer’s worst foe. The human body can oxidize and decay, like rusting steel, from excess free radical production. Not only can this negate everything that you've worked so hard to achieve in your swim training, but it can also result in severe consequences to your overall health.

Summary

Remember, how well you recover today greatly determines how well you'll perform tomorrow. The fact is that swimmers who attend to the recovery process as much as they do to active training have a distinct advantage over those who disregard or neglect it. Therefore, if you want to reap the benefits out of all the time and energy you put into your training, as soon as possible after you finish your workout—ideally within the first 60 minutes—it's crucial for you to replenish your body with adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, whey protein isolate, and supplementary vitamins, minerals, and a wide variety of antioxidants.

Hammer Nutrition’s Recoverite (or Hammer Whey + a quality carbohydrate source), Premium Insurance Caps, Race Caps Supreme, Mito Caps, Super Antioxidant, and AO Booster will fulfill these requirements in superb fashi