Recovery Supplement Truths

What do you think about drinking recovery supplements, such as whey protein or glutamine, throughout a day of cragging?

By Rock and Ice | December 4th, 2009

What do you think about drinking recovery supplements, such as whey protein or glutamine, throughout a day of cragging? We’re told it’s best to drink those after exercise, but it seems to me that the slow drip is more suited to a sport with short, powerful 15- to 30-minute bursts (aka a pitch) every hour or so over the course of an eight-hour day. I’ve been experimenting with a climbers’ cocktail my friend (who invented it) calls Whey-Gay, which is a mix of whey protein and Gatorade powder in a liter of water. I definitely feel more recovered between burns, but I’m wondering if that’s just all in my head (it’s hard to tell with so many shouting, angry voices in there).

—Jim Jones, Salt Lake City, UT

I’D BE WARY OF MAKING cocktails with sports nutritional products. Better and safer to get the stuff that’s been properly blended and tested. The voices might go away, too!

Sipping a carbohydrate-based drink during prolonged endurance-based activities will improve performance. During exercise, the body absorbs fluids better than solids and a carb-based sports drink will satisfy the priority of hydration as well as keeping levels of muscular glycogen as high as possible. An additional benefit to be obtained from carbohydrates, whether mid- or post-exercise, is the increase of insulin levels, which are vital for recovery, and also a reduction of the hormone cortisol, which can increase the effects of stress during exercise. Second, recovery drinks that contain a mix of carbohydrates and protein (usually a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio) are widely regarded as excellent for post-exercise recovery. The protein element evidently assists with muscle repair, and the carbohydrates provide the energy. You could wait until your next meal but you will seriously miss out on your full recovery potential if you wait longer than an hour. The studies all point to the notion that getting one of these drinks straight down the hatch right after training is very wise.

Whether you need the protein component during exercise is not as well researched. However, one study on the subject was made by the Allied Health Sciences Center, Springfield College in 2001. Full details can be found online in the Journal of Exercise Physiology, Volume 4 No. 1, January edition. The study concluded that a carbohydrate-protein drink following glycogen-depleting exercise may facilitate a greater rate of muscle glycogen resynthesis than a carbohydrate-only beverage, hasten the recovery process, and improve exercise endurance during a second bout of exercise performed on the same day. The advice seems to be that energy/recovery drinks taken during exercise won’t do you any harm and they may well do you some good.

Neil Gresham is one of the world’s premier climbing coaches. He has climbed 5.14a sport, E10 trad and M10 mixed. Log on to the forums at rockandice.com to ask Coach Gresham your training questions.

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