Need that perfect balance of carbohydrates, electrolytes and protein after 2 to 3 hours of endurance training? Here are 4 things endurance athletes need to know–along with the perfect recovery drink:

  1. Protein- is needed to rebuild muscle, but not in excessive amounts. About 20 grams is sufficient.
  2. Carbohydrates- restore glycogen, which is energy stored in muscles (and liver). Glycogen is the main source of fuel for endurance athletes.
  3. Electrolytes- are lost through sweat so losses of sodium and potassium vary depending upon how much you sweat.
  4. Antioxidants- found in fresh fruits and veggies may help to reduce inflammation and cell damage.

Immediately after an intense training, drinking a cup of low fat chocolate milk is one of the most economical ways to recover quickly, which is much healthier than artificial sports drinks. The milk’s naturally occurring sugar (lactose) is half glucose, its protein speeds up glycogen synthesis in the body, and its electrolytes (like potassium and, to a lesser extent, sodium) help you rehydrate. When you arrive home, try this natural foods smoothie for another boost of nutrition:

The Perfect Recovery Smoothie

Ingredients (choose organic ingredients when available):

  • 1/2 cup baby spinach
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • ½ cucumber, chopped
  • 1 banana, peeled
  • 1 cup plain low fat yogurt
  • 1/2 cup natural coconut water or tart cherry juice
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons avocado
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon *maca powder

Wash all vegetables thoroughly and place into a high speed blender with other ingredients. Blend for about 2 minutes or until smooth.

Serves 1.

*Maca is a plant that grows in central Peru in the high plateaus of the Andes mountains. It has been cultivated as a vegetable crop in Peru for at least 3000 years. Maca is a relative of the radish and has an odor similar to butterscotch. Its root is used to make medicine.

Maca is used for “tired blood” (anemia); chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS); and enhancing energy, stamina, athletic performance, memory, and fertility. Women use maca for female hormone imbalance, menstrual problems, and symptoms of menopause. Maca is also used for weak bones (osteoporosis), depression, stomach cancer, leukemia, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, erectile dysfunction (ED), to arouse sexual desire, and to boost the immune system.

In foods, maca is eaten baked or roasted, prepared as a soup, and used for making a fermented drink called maca chicha.

In agriculture, it is used to increase fertility in livestock.

How does it work?
Maca root contains many chemicals, including fatty acids and amino acids. However, there isn’t enough information to know how maca might work.

Nutrition Facts per serving (prepared with coconut water, avocado and maca) (631 grams): 378 calories, 7.2 grams fat, 228 milligrams sodium, 1709 milligrams potassium, 60 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams dietary fiber, 17.2 grams protein, 39 percent Daily Value Vitamin A, 54 percent DV Calcium, 109 percent DV Vitamin C, 10 percent DV Iron.

About hydration: The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that people drink about 17 ounces of fluid about two hours before exercise, to promote adequate hydration and allow time for the body to excrete any excess water. During exercise, they recommend that athletes start drinking early and at regular intervals in order to take in fluids at the rate they’re losing them through sweating. Fluid replacement after exercise is meant to fully replace any fluid and electrolyte losses. If time permits, regular meals and beverages will restore normal hydration levels. Consuming beverages and snacks with sodium will help expedite rapid and complete recovery by stimulating thirst and fluid retention. Individuals needing rapid and complete recovery from excessive dehydration can drink about 1.5 liters (or 6 cups) of fluid for each kilogram of body weight lost. Fluids should be consumed over time (and with sufficient electrolytes) rather than being ingested all at once to maximize fluid retention.

Note that nutritional needs vary depending on age, weight, activity level, timing of meals, weather conditions, and length and type of exercise. That’s why it’s best to seek advice from a registered dietitian.

For more healthy recipes and a diet geared towards optimal health and weight loss without deprivation, pick up a copy of Layne’s book: Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets Of The Super-Healthy.