The Importance of Recovery
When I was younger, my ideal weekend consisted of pounding out hours and hours on the bike each morning and then trying to do the same the next day. I rather enjoyed that feeling of utter exhaustion in between and at the start of following rides, and looked at it as a sign of good training. It was only a few years and degrees later that I put the training-recovery spiral together and realized the importance of proper recovery, both physical and dietary, as an important component of overall training.
Think of a rubber band analogy. If you want to have the hardest snap of the band (training), you also need to pull the band back (recovery) as much as you can. One does not exist in a vacuum without the other.
You have probably heard of the following two terms bandied about before, but let’s define two of the most important concepts in dietary recovery:
1. Glycogen Window: Glycogen is the prime storage form for carbohydrates in your body, and is the preferred fuel for high intensity exercise. Unfortunately, it exists in only small amounts in your muscles and liver. When you run low, you rely almost solely on oral glucose (e.g., from a sports drink) to sustain high intensity exercise or else you bonk. Therefore, the key consideration is maximizing the rate at which your body resynthesizes glycogen after an exhaustive workout. Research has demonstrated that your body’s rate of resynthesis is at its highest during the first ~30 min or so, hence the term “glycogen window” for this limited opportunity to maximize your glycogen recovery.
2. Glycemic Index: All carbohydrates are not created equal, and some enter the bloodstream faster than others, with the result of a higher spike in your blood glucose levels. This provokes a higher release of insulin, which is a key hormone responsible for “storing fuel” and the synthesis of glycogen. Glucose is the standard (100), and all other carbohydrates and foods are given a glycemic index based on their rate of entry into the bloodstream compared to pure glucose (e.g., Gatorade = 89). Check out www.glycemicindex.com for the complete explanation and database.
So to summarize, the basic consideration with dietary recovery is to get as much carbohydrate into your blood as rapidly as possible after exercise. At the same time, you also need to be getting protein into your system to assist in the recovery and strengthening of your muscles. Milk with several tablespoons of sugar gets you some of the basic ingredients, but it gets trickier than that because, in addition to speed of delivery to the muscles, you also need the right mix of carbohydrates and proteins along with minerals and vitamins. Plus, it’s not the most appealing to drink right after a long hot ride, and it can also be rather dicey trying to keep that cool in your car all day!
Ultragen is First Endurance’s recovery drink product, and I had the opportunity to test it over the past two months while I was putting my post-Tour fitness (and my sabbatical leave!) to good use by putting in about double the normal bike time as I normally do during Sept/Oct (increased from about 1000 km to 2000 km during that time). I did not bonk once during that time. That, plus the simple fact that I was able to up my bike time that dramatically, can be attributed to both less work stress (sabbatical leave), unusually awesome fall weather, more time to devote to recovery (actually being able to fit in some afternoon naps once in a while), and also to the use of Ultragen when riding >2 – 2.5 h.
The powder comes in a big (3 lb) container that lists 15 servings, but I have easily exceeded that number even at the recommended dosage of two scoops in 12 oz of water. Only one flavour (tropical punch) is available at this point, although plans for a “creamsicle” flavour is in the works.
The drink dissolved very easily in water, thereby preventing the dreaded chalky texture and taste of some other recovery drink powders. I would personally not recommend mixing it with anything else but water as other sites has suggested, as the whole point is that the powder was designed to work as originally designed. How many of you have screwed up a recipe in the kitchen by substituting or ignoring an ingredient or two? Exactly!
But Does it Work?
There are two completely different but equally important considerations when deciding whether a recovery drink works:
1. Does the science make sense? In the case of Ultragen, the balance of evidence seems to support the product. To maximize the glycemic index, glucose is the only carbohydrate used to ensure rapid delivery to the bloodstream. In addition, they have taken ingredients that have been scientifically demonstrated to be important in recovery (e.g., branched chain amino acids, L-glutamine) and have put them into a formulation that does the best possible job of maximizing their absorption and benefits. As they write, they don’t believe in putting “pixie dust” levels of an ingredient in simply for marketing.
2. Will you drink it? Just like bike fit, the best drink is useless if you can’t stand the taste. Taste is a personal thing, but I found it very easy to drink in that the flavouring was not so strong that it gets tiresome with repeated use. Having a powder is excellent in that I could easily bring it with me and mix it anywhere. This is especially critical if you’re in the middle of nowhere after your ride or race and a long time from getting home.
First Endurance and Quality Control
I have written about the risk of contamination with supplements before, but there are companies who are doing it right in terms of ensuring a top-end supplement while at the same time making product safety central to their philosophy. First Endurance is one of them, and they go to impressive lengths to ensure quality control.
All ingredients used in First Endurance formulations come from audited suppliers who do not carry, broker or supply any banned substances. In addition, their manufacturing facility does not allow banned substances in any products manufactured. As further quality control, each case lot is analysed by an independent testing agency, and a certificate of analysis is included with each container.
Even dearer to my heart, First Endurance has published detailed scientific information and listed all of their scientific references for each of their products on their website.
Lastly, First Endurance offers a 100% Performance Guarantee on all of their products, offering a full refund if customers are not satisfied. Another highly admirable feature!
First Endurance provided a free sample of Ultragen for this review. At the time of original publication of this article, neither PezCycling News nor Podium Performance Inc. has any financial conflicts of interest with First Endurance.
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Stephen’s company, Podium Performance, also provides elite sport science and training support to provincial and national-level athletes in a number of sports. He can be reached for comments or coaching inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.