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Crossfit Recovery Drinks: What and When to Drink a Workout?
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Crossfit Recovery Drinks: What and When to Drink a Workout?

What makes Crossfit demanding is its dual emphasis on functional strength and cardiovascular endurance. Crossfitters earn their hard-core reputation because simultaneously training for both of these fitness goals in a single workout is physically exhausting and mentally taxing. 

Dr. David Stuart, is Founder of Food & Nutrient Impact and studies how performance is linked to nutrition. “The recovery period after exercise contributes significantly to performance,” he says.  “It’s when our bodies are primed to restore energy reserves and repair damaged and inflamed muscle tissue after vigorous exercise. Additionally, to access peak performance during the next workout or competition, complete recovery is a must.” He adds that over the extended duration of a full training cycle, high quality of recovery may significantly benefit longer term adaptations in muscle that contribute to endurance and strength.

A few important factors influence the quality of recovery including nutrition, nutrition timing, and rest. Let’s explore the elements of post workout recovery and what types of recovery drinks best meet the endurance needs of Crossfit training.

 A crossfit recovery drink is a great way to jumpstart post workout recovery so that you can recover as quickly as possible and reap the fullest benefit of the immediate post-workout period for 4-6 hours after exercising. 

Five Recovery Tips for Crossfitters

1. Rehydrate

1-2 Cups of water for every lb. of weight lost during a Crossfit workout immediately after finishing is recommended. Add electrolytes to further support rehydration, especially if you did not have a pre-workout meal, snack, or beverage containing sodium.

2. Jumpstart energy replacement

Consume a high amount of carbs within 30 minutes of finishing a high intensity Crossfit workout. Delaying carbohydrate consumption by just 2 hours can reduce the rate of glycogen replacement by 50%. A fast-acting Crossfit recovery drink is a convenient, and easily digestible way to rapidly onboard carbs. Aim for 10g of Carbs for every 11 lbs of body weight.

3. Eat carbs (with some protein) 

Eat again at 2 hours, 4 hours, and 6 hours if still hungry. Intermittent feeding after endurance training has been shown to help fully restore depleted glycogen so you’re ready for your next training session. If possible try to consume 3-4 times more carbs than protein at these feeding intervals to support rapid and complete glycogen replacement.

4. Assist Recovery with Supplemental Micronutrients

Antioxidants like vitamin C, Quercetin, Green Tea extract, or Tart Cherry extract assist recovery and support resilient muscles by helping the body neutralize free radicals generated during high intensity exercise. Epicatechin, a specific antioxidant found in green tea and cocoa, has been shown to promote blood flow which aids the delivery of nutrients and anti-inflammatory cells to muscles during recovery (Brossette et. al., 2011). Creatine supplementation may also help promote protein synthesis, which aids muscle repair and growth during recovery.

5. Maintain a healthy diet

Eat whole foods that provide complex carbohydrates, complete protein, and nutrient dense fruits and vegetables. Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and dark berries like blueberries are abundant in antioxidants and other nutrients that support resilient muscles, and high quality post-workout recovery. (Read more about foods that support muscle recovery.)

Best Recovery Drinks to jumpstart Crossfit Recovery

  • Freak Shake Endurance Fuel – An all-in-one carb, electrolyte & protein recovery drink with an ideal replenishment profile for a crossfit recovery drink. Uniquely supplemented with antioxidant Epicatechin to promote blood flow, endurance and resilient muscle.
  • Chocolate Milk – An optimal blend of carbs, electrolytes & complete protein for rapid replenishment that’s budget friendly.
  • Ka’Chava Superfood Shakes – Carbs plus vegan protein with a smorgasbord of plant micronutrients that can help substitute for whole foods and meals post workout.
  • FitAID RX Creatine Recovery Drink – Supplemental source of vitamins, antioxidants and creatine to promote recovery and resilient muscles. Provides a small amount of replenishing carbs and electrolytes too.
  • Cherry Active Juice Concentrate – High Carbs with beneficial antioxidants and a smidge of protein.
  • Green Tea & Spinach Smoothie – Adding green tea extract and spinach to a high carb & smoothie provides a concentrated serving of recovery-friendly antioxidants.

A Deeper Dive - Why is Crossfit so intense?

Crossfit combines Olympic style lifting with high intensity cardiovascular conditioning. This style of endurance training stresses nearly all major muscle groups and the cardiovascular system in order to build power, speed, balance, flexibility, endurance and resilience. These changes in muscle, heart, lungs, and the cardiovascular network of blood vessels occur after exercising. In order to fully benefit from these adaptations, the recovery process must restore homeostasis or equilibrium by: 

  1. Replenishing depleted hydration and energy resources.
  2. Reducing excess inflammation that accumulates in muscles during strenuous exercise

Replenishing Muscle During Recovery

Crossfit movements use resistance from kettlebells, medicine balls, barbells, rowing machine, or challenging bodyweight movements like box jumps or muscle ups to stress multiple major muscle groups with each exercise. Supplying so many major muscles at a high intensity  causes rapid depletion of the body’s stored energy and hydration resources. 

  • Rehydration. Internal heat is a  byproduct of muscle metabolism during exercise and when you’re using most of your skeletal muscle mass to do Crossfit exercises, you generate a lot of heat. Lots of heat means lots of sweat! When we sweat heavily, we excrete water and electrolytes that are vital to maintain muscle cell fluid balance and transmit nerve impulses to muscles. Replenishing fluid and electrolytes immediately after Crossfit Exercise supports recovery.

  • Refueling.  At the high intensity of exercise in Crossfit training, muscles rely primarily on stored glycogen, a form of energy that muscles can rapidly metabolize during anaerobic exercise. Unfortunately our bodies can only store enough glycogen to support about an hour of moderate to intense exercise before we need to replenish these reserves. Carbohydrates are the macronutrients we convert into glycogen, and Crossfit exercise requires a high amount of Carbs to fully restore glycogen during recovery. 

  • Managing Inflammation During Recovery

    Crossfit training creates mechanical and oxidative stress on muscle through resistance and high intensity cardiovascular exertion. These stressors cause microtrauma or small tears in muscle fibers that the body reacts to with an inflammatory response.

    During post-workout recovery, the body is primed to rapidly address inflammation. Some inflammation is beneficial and necessary to increase fitness because it signals the start of repair and growth systems that rush aid to inflammatory sites. As the body combats inflammation, adaptations occur in muscle, organs, and the cardiovascular system that contribute to increased resilience, strength and endurance. Crossfit is just the stimulus for building strength and endurance between workouts, during the recovery period.

    The first key to high quality recovery is not to overreach to the extent that recovery is still incomplete before your next planned bout of exercise or competition. Excess inflammation that lingers for too long can impede successive training and even contribute to chronic inflammation. A common symptom of overreaching is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) which athletes usually experience 24-48 hours after training. It’s not too serious, as long as an athlete gives their body adequate rest to reduce the inflammation before their next high intensity Crossfit workout.

    As endurance builds over time, muscles become more resilient - meaning they can tolerate slightly more stress before triggering an inflammatory response. As we gain fitness and resilience, we must work even harder to generate the same beneficial cycle of stress, inflammation and recovery. This is the physiological foundation of conditioning in Crossfit and other endurance sports.

    How can Crossfitters recover quickly?

    Avoid overreaching by reducing weight or modifying body movements so that you can sustain good form with high intensity. Modify resistance so that you don’t near failure until the last set of any given exercise. And when you start to fail, cut your interval short to begin the rest interval, even if you haven’t completed your target number of reps. To promote complete recovery while training on a daily schedule, alternate high intensity training with with low intensity, long duration aerobic training like running or cycling in between high intensity Crossfit circuit workouts. 

    Immediately after a training session, it’s important to start replenishing depleted hydration and energy resources. Drink 1-2 cups of water for every pound of water weight lost immediately after training. Try adding a high source of electrolytes to your drink to begin replacing sodium, potassium, and other mineral electrolytes that you sweated out. 

    Replenishing energy resources is vital after high intensity Crossfit training.  a high amount of carbohydrates are necessary to fully restore depleted glycogen after intense endurance training. Recently, sugar and carbs have fallen out of fashion with the popularity of Paleo and Ketogenic diet trends. However, nothing replaces glycogen faster than simple carbohydrates (sugars).

    Dr. Stuart explains, “When carbohydrate ingestion is delayed by several hours, research has shown that this may lead to 50% lower rates of muscle glycogen synthesis.  Consuming carbohydrates immediately, that is within 30 minutes of exercise, and then at intervals several hours after exercise has been demonstrated to maximize glycogen replacement.” 

    A recommended serving is 10g of Carbohydrates per 11 lbs. of body mass within 30 minutes post-workout, then again at 2 hour intervals for 4-6 hours after workout” (Jentjens, 2003). For a 165 lb Crossfitter, that equates to 150g of Carbs within 30 minutes, and then another 150g every 2 hours for another 2-3 feedings. Carbs taste amazing after a hard workout so reward yourself with enough of them.

    <H2> Are Protein Shakes After Crossfit a Good way to Recover?

    It depends. High quality protein plays two parts in replenishing us. Dr Stuart explains, “The effect of consuming carbohydrates along with high quality protein has been shown to be an aid to post-exercise recovery.”  (Saunders et. al, 2004). When consumed at a ratio 1g of protein to 3-4g of carbs, they work in league to increase the rate of glycogen synthesis (Kersick, 2008). Additionally, the essential amino acids in complete protein supply the building blocks to repair and grow new muscle while recovering. Try to pair some protein and carbs within the first 30 minutes of recovery after Crossfit, and again at the 2 hour feeding interval to rapidly restore glycogen.

    A traditional protein shake after high intensity endurance training won’t hurt recovery - but remember to get your carbs too! If you are a fairly heavy Crossfit athlete with a lot of skeletal muscle mass, your protein requirements during recovery will be greater than lighter athletes and a protein supplement may help you get to your higher quota of protein during the recovery period. Generally though, Protein Shakes prioritize high amounts of protein over carbohydrates with the goal of supporting muscle growth and lean muscle mass rather than recovery. Too much protein at the expense of carbs is not optimal for recovering from high intensity endurance training like Crossfit..

    A general guideline to support recovery after endurance training ranges from 5.5g to 8.3g of protein per 10 lbs of body mass (Kato et. al, 2016). For a 165 lb athlete again, that’s a total amount between 90 and 140g of protein to support recovery. If possible, combining that protein with 3-4 times more carbs during your post workout carbohydrate feeding intervals may help accelerate glycogen replacement and recovery.

    Are Recovery Drinks Helpful for Crossfitters?

    A healthy diet of whole foods with lots of nutrients and complex carbs is the best way to replenish after a hard workout especially when you have time to prepare wholesome meals and snacks. However, a high-carb Crossfit Recovery drink in the 30 minute post workout window is a convenient (and delicious) way to help jumpstart recovery especially when the tummy may be feeling a little wonky after a really hard session! 

    A high quality recovery drink after Crossfit training will emphasize replenishment with a large serving of carbohydrates and electrolytes. The best recovery drinks will also include a modest amount of complete protein at a ratio of 1g to 3-4g carbohydrates to speed glycogen replacement. We recommend a blend of dairy protein isolates that is 20% whey and 80% casein (see Freak Shake Endurance Fuel below). These proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids, and help smooth delivery to muscle with a combination of fast acting whey and slower digesting, fuller absorption casein. Many athletes will also find this blend easier on the stomach compared to 100% whey protein supplements that can cause a bloated sensation.

    Frequently Asked Questions About Crossfit Recovery

    What is the best drink for workout recovery?

    We’re a bit partial, but Freak Shake Endurance Fuel was designed explicitly with the demanding recovery needs of high intensity and long duration endurance training in mind. It has an ideal blend of high carbs and electrolytes to quickstart rehydration and glycogen replenishment. Plus an ideal ratio of complete protein and antioxidant Epicatechin to aid recovery, muscle growth, and other adaptations that contribute to endurance during recovery.

    How do CrossFit athletes recover so fast?

    Crossfit athletes are incredibly well rounded athletes because they are not only very powerful, but they train for endurance. Unlike pure long distance endurance athletes, they are explosive and powerful. And unlike pure power athletes, they are able to utilize a lot of oxygen to sustain a high level of output (Read more about VO2 Max and endurance). 

    What should you drink during CrossFit?

    Water! Crossfit training involves every major muscle group at high intensity which generates plenty of sweat. If you are able to sip some water during rest periods that should help maintain hydration especially during longer sessions. If the stomach can tolerate adding some carbs and electrolytes to help replenish energy and hydration resources during exercise, that can help minimize bonking when muscles become too depleted to sustain the workload. Crossfit training doesn’t typically demand over 20-30 minutes of max intensity exercise, so a recovery drink at the end is usually enough to help jumpstart recovery with hydration and energy replenishment.

    References

    1. Brossette T, Hundsdörfer C, Kröncke KD, Sies H, Stahl W. Direct evidence that (−)-epicatechin increases nitric oxide levels in human endothelial cells. Eur J Nutr. 2011;50(7):595-599. doi:10.1007/s00394-011-0172-9
    2. Jentjens R, Jeukendrup AE. Determinants of Post-Exercise Glycogen Synthesis During Short-Term Recovery. Sports Med. 2003;33(2):117-144. doi:10.2165/00007256-200333020-00004
    3. Saunders MJ, Kane MD, Todd MK. Effects of a carbohydrate-protein beverage on cycling endurance and muscle damage. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004 Jul;36(7):1233-8. doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000132377.66177.9f. PMID: 15235331.
    4. Kerksick C, Harvey T, Stout J, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sport Nutr. 2008;5(1):17. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-5-17
    5. Kato H, Suzuki K, Bannai M, Moore DR. Protein Requirements Are Elevated in Endurance Athletes after Exercise as Determined by the Indicator Amino Acid Oxidation Method. PLoS One. 2016 Jun 20;11(6):e0157406. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0157406. PMID: 27322029; PMCID: PMC4913918.
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