Sports Training & Conditioning Zone!

Optimize Your Diet, Recovery and Blood Chemistry

By Bill Parisi, C.S.C.S

Many athletes overlook the importance of proper nutrition & diet, rest & recovery, and blood chemistry. Eating several meals a day, staying properly hydrated and getting the proper sleep are three critical elements to a quality recovery from workouts… not to mention to maintain good health. If your muscles are not fully recovered from the previous workout or competition, then the chances of injury increase the next time you train or compete.  Remember, when you workout, you are literally breaking down the muscle, creating fiber micro tears.  The muscle needs the proper nutrition; hydration and rest to be able to regenerate and build itself back up. 

It starts with eating a well balanced diet of quality carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Rich protein sources are poultry, fish, lean meats, beans, soy, yogurt, nuts and milk. It is important to take in quality carbohydrates as well. Remember, carbohydrates are protein-sparing molecules.  Complex carbohydrates include whole grains such as oats, quinoa, wild rice, whole-wheat bread, whole grain pasta and green and starchy vegetables, such as broccoli and sweet potatoes.  Simple carbs consist of fruits and natural fruit juices.  These foods are critical before and after workouts and competitions, as they play important roles for muscle fueling and recovery.  Contrary to popular belief, the most important meal of the day is not breakfast.  The post workout meal takes this title.  Ideally, you want to ingest lean protein, along with simple carbohydrates within 60 minutes after your workout to optimize muscle recovery and results.  This is not always a simple task and that is why protein shakes are so popular due to their simple access and ease of digestion. They are usually made with milk and a banana that has simple sugar already in it.   The ingestion of protein, along with a mix of simple sugars, kick starts protein synthesis, which is the regeneration process of lean muscle tissue. 

Water also plays a key role in muscle repair and growth. If your cells are not properly hydrated, then protein synthesis will be hampered and muscle growth and function hindered. Most people do not drink enough water, and if you are dehydrated, your risk for muscle strains and pulls goes up (Adirim, Terry A., and Tina L. Cheng, 2003).   You should drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water every day.  For example, if you weigh 150 pounds you should drink at least 75 ounces of water per day, and even more on workout days, especially before and during the workout.
Sleep hygiene is a huge topic sweeping the athletic and health world.  It is during sleep when your body actually performs the majority of tissue regeneration and repair from the previous day’s work.  If you cut yourself short of proper sleep, you are cutting off your ability to fully recover, hence increasing your risk of injury.  Establish a regular bedtime and rise time and make sure you get the proper amount of sleep for your age.         



A good way to track your recovery from workouts is to analyze your blood chemistry.  The measurement of blood biomarkers is a science that is making its way into the mainstream athletic world and brings new innovation to the modern athlete.  In terms of muscle pulls, such as the hamstring, it is important to understand that when your muscles begin to contract and perform work, they utilize a stored energy source inside the cell called ATP, Adenosine Triphosphate.  This initial stored energy source is burned up quickly without the presence of oxygen.  The muscle produces this ATP energy source through a series of metabolic processes, two that do not require oxygen and one that does.  The first energy source is known as the Creatine Phosphate (CP).  This energy source is utilized for muscle contraction for up to 10-15 seconds.  The second energy source is called Glycolysis. This energy source lasts up to 30-40 seconds.  The third is commonly known as, Aerobic Cellular Respiration, or Aerobic for short, and this energy source requires oxygen. 

As you utilize these three energy sources and continue to contract your muscles and work through your exercise sets, a waste byproduct of ATP production is produced, called lactate.  It is important to have enough rest time between sets during your workout, and enough recovery after your workout, so that lactate can be buffered and your ATP stores can regenerate accordingly.  If you workout with higher than appropriate lactate levels, and train at your “Lactate Threshold,” for too long, without the appropriate recovery, your risk of injury can increase.  Heart rate is the measuring tool that is utilized as to when to begin the next set in a workout and helps to manage blood lactate levels.  Typically, lactate threshold is about 85% of max heart rate.  220 minus your age would equal your max heart rate and 85% of that number would be your lactate threshold.  This is an inaccurate science to measuring proper recovery and is only a best guess estimate. There are now ways to get exact measurements for this information. 

Another key blood biomarker that should be looked at is Creatine Kinase (CK).  CK is an enzyme that is involved in the production of ATP to fuel short, high intensity muscle contractions, such as weight training, sprinting and jumping.   CK levels in the blood can be measured and indicate the extent of muscle damage associated with exercise.   This is a biomarker that should be tracked in comparison with your own history levels and tested under the same conditions.  Abnormally high levels of CK may indicate over training and should be a signal to allow for more recovery time and possibly less intense workouts. 

Key minerals such as Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, and Potassium all play critical roles in general health and enhanced performance.  When it comes to injury prevention, all these biomarkers should be evaluated for a host of reasons.  You have all seen athletes who cramp up during hot days; this can very well be because they are lacking one of these key minerals.  Cramps can lead to muscle pulls and that is why these minerals should be tested to make sure they are at the appropriate levels, especially for the competitive athlete.   
So remember, if you eat the right things, hydrate, allow your body time to recover and have an understanding of your blood chemistry, you will not only be able to increase performance, but will be able to decrease the risk of injury.

Bill Parisi is the founder of Parisi Speed School, the leader in youth sports performance training.   He also serves as an advisor to Blueprint for Athletes, which provides actionable diagnostic insights to help committed athletes improve performance.  For more information about Bill Parisi, the Parisi Speed School, and Blueprint for Athletes, visit http://www.parisischool.com and www.BlueprintforAthletes.com

T. Adirim, T Cheng. “Overview of Injuries in the Young Athlete.” Sports Med (2003) retrieved by www.researchgate.net

(June 2016)