How sugar can help your recovery

When running, cycling, swimming, or doing any kind of sport, your body requires energy to move. As you may know, your body uses two main sources of fuel: fat and carbohydrates (these are sugars, in the form of glucose). During exercise, the glucose stores in your body will be depleted and therefore it is important to refill these stores in order to reduce fatigue. Sounds simple, right? But do you really understand why it is so important and how glucose can help you to improve your recovery? Well, let’s start from the beginning…
Carbohydrates and fat as a fuel

As just mentioned, your body uses fat and glucose as fuel during exercise. The higher the intensity of the exercise, the more energy, and thus the more fats and sugars your body uses. But maybe more importantly, with higher intensities, your body relies more on glucose as energy source and less on fat. In other words, the faster you go, the more your body needs the glucose. This is because glucose gives more energy per breath of air (per ml oxygen) than fat does, and thus is a faster and more efficient fuel source for your body. 

There is one problem: whereas there is enough fat stored in the body to keep running for days, only a limited amount of glucose can be stored in the body, in the form of glycogen. This glycogen is stored in the liver (100 g) and the muscles (350 – 700 g), and is enough for only 45 – 90 min of moderate to high intensity exercise. Depleted glycogen stores are associated with fatigue, and can be experienced as ‘hitting the wall’, or ‘bonking’. Consuming carbs during prolonged exercise can be a good strategy to prevent you from becoming depleted, but carb consumption after exercise is often overlooked.   

Carbohydrate ingestion for recovery
 
Therefore, during exercise, you will (partly) empty the glycogen stores in your body, and it is therefore fundamental to replenish them after training. You can do this by consuming carbohydrates, e.g. by drinking a carbohydrate rich drink or by eating pasta, bread or a bar. This is particularly crucial when your next workout is within 24h after the previous session.
Improved glucose uptake directly after exercise

Why straight after exercise? Because glucose uptake by the muscles is increased directly after exercise, but only for a short amount of time. 
This is due to two factors:
  1. Exercise increases blood flow, and subsequently, nutrient delivery (including glucose) to the muscles. 
  2. After exercise, nutrients can be better transported from the blood into the muscles. As a result, more glucose is transported from the blood into the muscle the first few hours after exercise. 
So by consuming carbohydrates directly after exercise, your glycogen stores will be replenished faster, and thus recovery time will improve!

Recommended intake.

To replenish glycogen stores as fast as possible, top endurance athletes are advised to consume 1.2 g/h of carbohydrates per kg body weight for 3 to 4h after exercise. For an average 70kg person this means 84 g/h, which is a lot, and only needed for top athletes that for example train multiple times a day and can benefit massively from a speedier recovery.

When you have more time to recover, for example when your next work out is the next day or 2 days later, your carbohydrate intake does not need to be quite as serious. Directly after exercise it is helpful to take some (quick) carbs in the form of sugars, which gives you some instant energy after you’ve finished and helps to restore the first bit of glycogen to help aid your recovery. And in addition a proper normal (carbohydrate rich) meal will most likely give you the power your body needs.

Conclusion

If you are looking to improve your performance during exercise and perform at a high intensity, your body needs sugars (glucose). During running, cycling, swimming, or whatever your sport, your glucose stores will become (partly) depleted, which gives you the feeling of fatigue. Therefore, it is paramount to refill these stores after exercise by consuming carbohydrates to get ready for your next training or race. This was a fundamental reason for Vifit Sport adding some natural sugars to it’s recovery range, natural sugars in the form of glucose will to help replenish your glycogen stores. And along with protein it enables you to improve your recovery regime. Based on this science, it is why Vifit Sport contains a little sugar, to help replenish your glycogen stores.

References

If you want to check out the real science behind all this, here are some important references:

  1. Van Loon LJC, Greenhaff PL, Constantin-Teodosiu D, Saris WHM, Wagenmakers AJM. The effects of increasing exercise intensity on muscle fuel utilisation in humans. J Physiol. 2001;536(1):295–304.
  2. Beelen M, Burke LM, Gibala MJ, Van Loon LJC. Nutritional strategies to promote postexercise recovery. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2010;20(6):515–32.
  3. Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):5.
  4. Moore DR. Nutrition to Support Recovery from Endurance Exercise. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2015;14(4):294–300.
  5. Gonzalez JT, Fuchs CJ, Betts JA, van Loon LJC. Glucose plus fructose ingestion for post‐exercise recovery—greater than the sum of its parts? Nutrients. 2017;9(4):1–15.


Author: Job van Leeuwen, on behalf of Vifit Sport