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Friday, June 20, 2014

The 2 Post-Workout Fundamentals for Recovery and Repair

How to re-hydrate...the right way
My friend caught my expression and gave me a Let’s get Jini out of here before she becomes unleashed look. I only use professional-brand formulations, and rarely do I shop at supplement chain stores.

Today was one of those rare exceptions. We were headed for Saturday shopping at The Grove, I had my protein powder in a bag for a quick afternoon refuel, but dang!, I forgot my shaker cup.

As we browsed the aisles looking for shaker cups while some creepy 20-something bro-speak sales “dude” followed us around, my friend mentioned recently experiencing post-workout cramping. “It mostly hits me at night on my right arm,” she said, “but when it does… Whoa, the pain, and it keeps me up for hours.”

She needed an electrolyte formula. That’s when the trouble started
as I eyed the “anabolic section” and witnessed a vast aisle of supplement garbage uneducated consumers spend their hard-earned money on. As I scanned the electrolyte-formula labels, my Jinifit-unhinged face appeared and my friend knew it was time to leave that supplement store.

Electrolytes 101
At my gym, I frequently see uninformed guys religiously gulping designer sports drinks, and occasionally I want to ask one of them if they have any idea what an electrolyte even is.

If you need a recap, four major electrolytes fuel your body: Potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium.  Your body relies on these “electrical signals” to communicate, and they play a role in everything from cardiovascular to adrenal health.

As an athlete, you’re more prone to electrolyte imbalances. Sweating depletes electrolytes. So do chronic stress, gut issues, and chronic diarrhea or vomiting.

More likely, you’re familiar with the unpleasant aftermath of those imbalances: Cramping, dizziness, fatigue, erratic heartbeat, irritability, and heavy legs. These and other complications can seriously stall your game, and you need an electrolyte formula to replenish those precious minerals.

Why Most “Sports Drinks” are Junk
Sports drinks are a multi-billion dollar industry, and manufacturers are well aware electrolyte imbalances frequently occur in the fitness world. They’ve got serious money to convince you sugar water with a few added nutrients will somehow reduce those problems and boost your game.

I’m not going to name names, but here’s the ingredient list for one very popular sports drink:


Note that first ingredient: More on that in a sec.

I don’t need to explain why most other ingredients here get a big thumbs-down. I will note this formulation had just 7% of the Daily Value (DV) for potassium and 1% for sodium, with no mention of magnesium or calcium. I’m confused, then, why the manufacturer – which rhymes with “Later, maid!” – claims it would “replace electrolytes lost in sweat” (as their website claims) when it actually contains very few minerals.

“The only time you should resort to these drinks is after vigorous exercise, such as cardiovascular aerobic activity, for a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour, and you’re sweating profusely [bolding his] as a result of that activity,” writes Dr. Joseph Mercola. “Anything less than 45 minutes will simply not result in a large enough fluid loss to justify using these high-sodium, high-sugar drinks.” 

Most of my readers don’t do aerobic exercise, and you know excessive working out – usually more than an hour – can raise your stress hormone cortisol and become counterproductive.

That said, if you’re lifting heavy in July Southern California heat and sweating like crazy in an un-AC’d gym, yeah, you probably need an electrolyte formula.

Unfortunately, the ones I saw at the supplement chain store weren’t much better than sugary, nutrient-paltry commercial drinks. A few powder formulations at least had decent nutrient amounts, but most contained sugar or artificial sweeteners and colors.

Let’s say you’re not sweating profusely or otherwise excessively depleting electrolytes. You just want to maintain a steady nutrient supply to keep your machinery running smoothly. What’s the ideal post-workout hydrating drink?

Look around your gym at the serious athletes. You don’t see them chugging sports drinks. What they carry around isn’t sexy, isn’t marketable, but for hydration – and a zillion other reasons – it’s every athlete’s number one essential beverage.

Manufacturers have done their damnedest to sell water by fortifying it with electrolytes, nutrients, antioxidants, or whatever. I’m sure some genius in Silicon Valley is brainstorming some “improved” water that will make him a million bucks even as I write. You don’t need them. Plain old filtered water will work just perfectly.

The Power of Aminos
“What are every athlete’s two absolute post-workout recovery essentials?” a coworker recently asked me.  After some thought, I replied, “Water and protein.”

As athletes, we wax poetic about protein’s power, but we oftentimes forget protein breaks down into 20 essential or non-essential amino acids. “Non-essential” means your body can make these amino acids; it can’t make “essential” amino acids, hence you need them from food or supplements.

Amino acids are real workhorses within your body. Among their duties, they help build enzymes, hormones, and antibodies. They also contribute to muscle synthesis and repair, making protein tops among heavy lifters and other athletes.

Chief among aminos are branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), which constitute about 35% of essential amino acids in muscle protein. The biggie BCAA is leucine, the only amino acid that can stimulate muscle protein synthesis and prevent muscle tissue breakdown.

If you’re a regular lifter, I probably don’t need to sell you on BCAAs. One study found exercise increases your need for BCAAs. Researchers found supplementing with BCAAs pre- and post-workout could decrease exercise-induced muscle damage and boost muscle-protein synthesis. 

I used to supplement with BCAAs, but could never find one I loved. Some came artificially sweetened (aspartame-sweetened fruit punch flavor? No thanks), and those with no sweeteners tasted terrible. Many clumped or otherwise failed to dissolve in liquid.

Then I found Amino Complex from Thorne Research, which combines all the essential amino acids – not just BCAAs – in their correct ratio for muscle synthesis and repair. Among its benefits include improved energy levels, mitochondrial production, and lean muscle mass. Amino Complex dissolves easily in water, has a pleasant lemon flavor, and comes naturally sweetened with stevia.

Electrolytes + Aminos = A Powerful Combo for Rehydration
Writing this blog, I stumbled across a new study that weighed your best rehydration options. Researchers compared flavored water (FW), an electrolyte-carbohydrate (EC) drink, and an electrolyte-amino acid (EA) blend drink enhanced cellular rehydration rate. 

The electrolyte-amino combination proved the clear winner to optimally rehydrate. Researchers concluded “an EA supplement may enhance cellular rehydration rate compared to an EC or FW beverage in healthy men and women after acute dehydration of around 2% body mass loss.”

To Electrolyte or Not?
Amino acids become absolutely necessary around your workout for (among other reasons) muscle synthesis and recovery. Amino Complex provides the optimal way to get those critical amino acids in their most effective, absorbable formula. Keep in mind even if you’re eating sufficient dietary protein, you might not be breaking down and absorbing those amino acids.

For electrolyte replenishment, I recommend filtered water unless you notice cramping or other electrolyte-imbalance symptoms. Based on that study, combining aminos with a professional-quality electrolyte formula post-workout might become your hydration ticket in those cases.

Supplementing with an electrolyte formula couldn’t hurt, especially in hot weather or if you’re otherwise prone to excessive sweating. I always keep a professional-quality electrolyte powder around for a rare case of the flu or a stomach bug, when vomiting or, um, bathroom problems could quickly deplete electrolytes.

Otherwise, water provides your best everyday-hydration solution. Buy a reusable canteen, keep it full, and especially drink around your workout. (Thankfully, many gyms offer a filtered-water cooler.)

If you’ve been wasting money on overpriced, ineffective sports drinks or “nutrient-enhanced” waters, feel free to visit my store to better use that extra $100 or so you’ll suddenly have every month.

Your Turn
As an athlete, have you ever struggled with cramping or other electrolyte-imbalance problems? If so, what worked best to rehydrate your cells and restore electrolyte balance? Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook fan page.
You have permission to do so, free of charge, as long as the byline and
the article is included in its entirety:

Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at © 2014 Jinifit, Inc.

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