Featured article in the Winter 2018 Issue of Nutrition Close-Up; written by Kristen Arnold, RDN, LD, MS
Optimal recovery protocols for athletes are critical to physical performance. Athletes and coaches often ask: What should an athlete eat after a workout? How much protein does an athlete need aft er a workout? What are easy and affordable options for post-workout recovery nutrition?
Two major goals of recovery from training are to build muscle and restore glycogen. Studies show consuming upwards of 20 grams of high-quality protein rich in branched chain amino acids (BCAAs)¹ combined with carbohydrate-rich foods in a ratio of 1:4 (protein to carbohydrates) stimulate muscle protein synthesis and glycogen restoration.² It is important to choose foods which are easy to prepare and pack, provide the beneficial nutrients for recovery, and are palatable to the athlete. Many coaches and health care professionals operate with the philosophy of ‘food first’, suggesting that whole foods are preferred over supplements and engineered foods. Whole foods are oft en less expensive and are not tainted with ingredients unsafe for sport, like some supplements and engineered sports products.³ Eggs are a whole food that provide an optimal source of protein, branched chain amino acids, and a range of essential vitamins and minerals. Moreover, eggs are inexpensive, easy to prepare, and palatable.
Resistance training (weight lifting, body-weight exercise) is an anabolic stimulus which primes the machinery of the muscle cell to facilitate the transport of amino acids into the muscle. Amino acids taken up from circulation (endogenous or exogenous) are then rapidly incorporated into new muscle proteins. The ingestion of whole egg protein aft er resistance training has been shown to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and albumin protein synthesis.⁴ In a study by Moore et al, six healthy young males ingested a beverage containing 0, 5, 10, 20 or 40 grams of intact protein (as compared to isolated amino acids) from whole eggs in a randomized order after leg-based resistance training. This stimulated dose-dependent increases in mixed-muscle and plasma albumin synthesis up to 20 grams. After 20 grams of dietary protein, there was a marked stimulation of whole-body leucine oxidation and no further increase in protein synthesis. With this information, it is recommended to include upwards of 20 grams of protein in post-exercise recovery food.
In addition to being a source of high-quality protein, eggs include a diverse profile of essential vitamins and minerals.5 It is important for athletes to not only focus on foods and nutrients to promote muscle growth, but also to prevent illness and promote overall health. Choosing nutrient-dense foods rich in vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and amino acids are crucial to athletic performance. Eggs contain varying levels of the following nutrients:
- Vitamin B12 which helps with red blood cell formation, manufacturing DNA and nerve cells and carbohydrate and fat metabolism
- Folate which helps with red blood cell formati on and DNA metabolism
- Pantothenic acid which aids carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism
- Zinc which aids in wound healing
- Iron which is essenti al for oxygen transport
- Vitamin E which promotes anti oxidant activity and cell membrane integrity
- Chromium which aids in growth and is part of glucose tolerance factor-a complex that enhances insulin action.
The fat present in the yolk helps to metabolize the fat-soluble vitamins present in the egg, making it a synergistic food for optimal nutrient absorption. Unlike engineered sports products and recovery powders, the egg is a whole food which includes a synergistic blend of nutrients to fuel the body. When combined with carbohydrate-rich foods, eggs are an optimal food to include in an athlete’s post-workout recovery nutrition protocol.
Below are examples of post-workout snacks/meals which include carbohydrate-rich foods and eggs, and are also palatable and easy to prepare:
1. Hulmi JJ, et al. Eff ect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A case for whey protein. Nutr Metab. 2010;7:51.
2. Rasmussen BB, et al. An oral essential amino acid-carbohydrate supplement enhances muscle protein anabolism aft er resistance exercise. J Appl Physiol. 2000;88:386-92.
3. Maughan, R. J. Contamination of dietary supplements and positive drug tests in sport. J Sports Sci. 2005;23,883-889.
4. Moore DR, et al. Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis aft er resistance exercise in young men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89,161-168.
5. US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Nutrient Data Laboratory. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. Basic Report: 01123, Egg, whole, raw, fresh.