This is part two of a four part series on “Recovery Strategies for Jiu Jitsu” Click here for part one.
There are a lot of supplements out there that claim to make you bigger, faster, and stronger, all while improving recovery and shortening the time needed between workouts. And a lot of these claims are unsupported, unproven, and simply, strategies to sell products that don’t work.
After performing extensive scientific research, it was disappointing, to say the least, to learn much of what I had accepted as true with regards to supplements, just had no solid proof. So much of what I had been “sold” either by friends, the Internet, or advertising was, to be frank, complete horseshit. With that said however, there are some things out there, as supported by scientific studies, that when supplemented with your diet can help to enhance and speed exercise recovery.
For the purposes of this article, the supplements chosen were strictly listed due to their recovery enhancing, not performance enhancing, capabilities. This line, however, is not always black and white, as a lot of times what helps you recover faster will also lead to gains in performance. The following ideas can be experimented with and are regarded as generally safe.
Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) have become very popular as of late, and after extensive research, there is good reason why. BCAAs are three essential amino acids (meaning amino acids that your body does not produce and must be acquired from food) isoleucine, leucine, and valine. Amino acids play a vital role in a variety of functions in the body; however, they are most notably involved in the synthesis of protein in muscle.
According to multiple studies, “BCAA supplementation before and after exercise has beneficial effects for decreasing exercise-induced muscle damage and promoting muscle-protein synthesis.” BCAAs actually suppress the proteins that are involved with breaking down muscle, which will not only help you to maintain muscle, but also promote recovery via less muscle damage.
There was also a decrease in perceived post-exercise muscle soreness in those who ingested BCAAs following exercise. BCAAs can be taken before or after training, however the most important factor is to ingest BCAAs within 1-3 hours of training to yield the benefits.
PROTEIN / CARBOHYDRATES
Most of us drink “recovery” drinks after training. Depending on what you’ve read online, been told by your bros, or sold by the guy at GNC, chances are you take some kind of protein supplement post-training. Studies have shown that protein consumption can help build muscle, prevent muscle breakdown, increase lean mass, and overall, improve recovery in those involved with resistance training. No doubt there is a resistance-training element to Jiu Jitsu, however, there is also an endurance element, and protein alone may not be your best choice for after training.
To replenish your glycogen stores, which become depleted from intense exercise, you need to ingest carbohydrates as well. According to this study, consuming carbs and protein together actually “enhances glycogen re-synthesis and rapidly stimulates muscle protein synthesis.” This article explains how one group of test subjects scored better race times in a subsequent test than the control group after ingesting chocolate milk (carbs, protein, and fat) between workouts.
In other words, a carb and protein mixture post-workout will replenish your energy stores, build muscle quicker, and leave you better recovered than taking each one individually, or nothing at all. This is crucially important for fighters performing multiple trainings in one day and/or many training sessions in one week. The optimal carb to protein ratio for Jiu Jitsu fighters is around 3:1 (ex. 60 grams carbs:20 grams protein.) As mentioned, chocolate milk, if your digestion permits, is a solid choice for a post-training drink.
It has been proven that intense exercise causes oxidative stress within the body. Basically, this means that when you exercise, unstable molecules are created called radicals, which can cause harm to the cells and reduce muscular output and performance. The body, however, has an amazing way of creating its own antioxidants to keep these radicals in check. If, however, exercise is excessive, the body may have trouble keeping up with these damaging molecules. This is where antioxidants and anti-inflammatory supplements come into play.
Diet and nutrition is an important part of lowering inflammation and oxidative stress within the body, however, there are certain supplements that can help to reduce these factors. In this study, markers of exercise-induced oxidative stress were lower in those who took a two-week supplement of vitamin C compared to those who did not. A similar study also showed “modest beneficial effects on muscle soreness and muscle function” post-exercise in those who supplemented with Vitamin C. Subjects were given between 800mg and 1000mg of vitamin C per day in these studies. The recommended daily intake is at 200mg for the average person, although athletes have been known to take up to 2,000mg per day.
While there is a lot of controversy over the effectiveness of fish oil, Omega-3 fatty acids (like those found in fish oil) have been shown to reduce inflammation within the body and lower markers of inflammation and oxidative stress. Krill Oil may actually be your better choice as it has all of the same benefits of fish oil, however is more readily absorbed by the body. The beneficial effects of Omege-3 fatty acids on markers of inflammation can also be viewed here.
TART CHERRY JUICE
Another powerful antioxidant that can be found in nature is tart cherry juice. Tart cherry juice has been shown to contain powerful natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that reduces the perception of muscle soreness post-workout. Although it is difficult to quantify muscle soreness, we know that cherry juice contains powerful antioxidants, and subjects report decreased post-workout soreness after ingestion, so it can be inferred that these antioxidants are relieving the symptoms of inflammation leading to quicker recovery. Test subjects drank a 12-ounce bottle of cherry juice before and during training sessions to elicit these results.
Turmeric is an herb that when harvested the roots are ground down to an orange colored powder. This spice has been used for thousands of years in India and the Far East for flavoring and medicinal purposes. With regard to exercise, turmeric contains curcumin, a strong antioxidant that helps fight free radicals, oxidative stress, and inflammation within the body. In this study, curcumin was shown to “reduce inflammation and offset some of the performance deficits associated with eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage.” Curcumin from turmeric has been shown to be better absorbed by the body when combined with black pepper. So why not add some to your next salad, chicken, or meal to reduce inflammation and enhance recovery?
In a few studies, subjects who ate ginger root before and after exercise also reported less muscle soreness, however, not directly after exercise. The benefits from ginger came two days after exercise, which is often the time when delayed-onset muscle soreness is worst. Ginger actually comes from the same plant family as turmeric, so it’s not a big surprise that it contains similar anti-inflammatory compounds that yield similar benefits. Test subjects ate 2 grams of ginger per day to yield the benefits for muscle soreness.
We’ve all heard how important it is to drink water and stay hydrated. In terms of recovery, however, the importance of proper hydration is stressed even more. Water is vitally important for a variety of functions within the body, and this study showed how dehydration – as low as 3% reduction of body mass – not only leads to decreased performance, but also an increase in perceived exertion, and hindered heart rate recovery.
So how much should you drink throughout the day? Athletes want to aim for .5 ounce to 1 ounce of water per pound of bodyweight per day. So if you’re 150 pounds, you want to get between 75 and 150 ounces everyday. Many experts suggest starting your day with a tall glass of water to spark digestion and start hydration after sleep. They also recommend adding a pinch of sea salt to your water to enhance hydration. Two hours before training you want to consume two to three cups of water. To measure hydration, weigh yourself right before training. During training, drink a cup of water every 15 minutes. Immediately weigh yourself after training. Drink three cups of water for every pound of weight lost during training. Continue to sip water throughout the rest of the day, aiming to get to 1 ounce of water per pound of bodyweight.
If performance is your priority, it’s important to treat your body like a Formula-One race car. Only the best goes in in order to get the best out. This is why diet is such an important aspect of training and especially, recovery. If you’re putting in the time on the mats and in the gym, you are doing yourself a disservice if you fail at the table. The body needs nutrient dense foods to perform at an optimal level. Eating anti-inflammatory foods is a smart idea to help reduce inflammation within the gut and body, and to ensure speedy recovery. Examples of pro-inflammatory foods that you should stay away from include:
- Trans Fats (deep fried foods, fast food, margarine)
- Refined Grains – (flour, bread, tortillas, pastas, pastries)
- Omega 6 Fatty Acids – (grape seed, safflower, corn and sunflower oils)
- Grain Fed Animal Products
- Alcohol (See below)
Anti-inflammatory foods that you should include in your diet are:
- Fatty Fish – (salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines)
- Dark Leafy Greens – (spinach, kale, broccoli, and collard greens)
- Colorful Fruits and Vegetables (Peppers, eggplant, oranges, berries, Brussel sprouts, tomatoes, mushrooms)
- Herbs and spices –(ginger, turmeric, curry, cinnamon, rosemary, garlic)
- Tea – (white, green)
- Nuts – (almonds, walnuts)
- Grass Fed Animal Products
Most of us enjoy a cold drink every now and then, and I’m a believer in balancing work and play. Alcohol, however, even at moderate levels, is pro-inflammatory and detrimental to performance when consumed after exercise, as proven by this study. In another study, however, small doses of alcohol after training had little to no effect on performance. Red wine, in particular, at low amounts, has yielded a wealth of research with positive effects on the body. The key take away here is that low amounts, meaning one or maybe two glasses of alcohol a week, will have no major bearing on performance or recovery. If, however, you are training for a competition or serious goal, it’s best to exclude alcohol completely.
It seems like we’re always being informed to add things to the body to improve performance and recovery, be it supplements, food, water, etc. Fasting, however, has shown promising results with respect to enhanced recovery. A study involving cyclists found that subjects power-to-weight ratio improved after three weeks of a 40% calorie restricted diet and exercise after overnight fasting. The subjects’ weight, fat weight, and body fat percentages decreased over the course of the test, while lean mass was maintained. There was also no decrement in performance over the three-week period. This research can be especially useful for grappler’s trying to cut weight and maintain power output.
In another study endurance athletes were tested for six weeks in either a fasted state or after ingesting high levels of carbohydrates. It was shown that the fasted athletes facilitated muscle protein synthesis faster than those who consumed ample carbohydrates.
Finally, this study – which might be of more significance to grapplers – tested markers of muscle protein synthesis in fasted and fed subjects after consuming a carb/protein drink after resistance training. Those who fasted before training, then consumed the carb/protein drink post-training showed a more anabolic response than those who ate before training. In other words, experimenting with training in a fasted-state every once in a while might be good for recovery, performance, and your power-to-weight numbers.
- BCAAs taken within 1-3 hours of training will help prevent muscle damage and promote muscle recovery post-workout.
- Carb/protein drinks with ratio 3:1 (carbs:protein) will help replenish your energy stores and promote muscle synthesis post-workout.
- Antioxidants including Vitamin C and Fish/Krill Oil will help to fight oxidative stress and inflammation within the body, with benefits to muscle soreness and recovery.
- Natural sources of antioxidants like tart cherry juice, turmeric, and ginger will help fight oxidative stress and inflammation from exercise, as well as help reduce perceived muscle soreness post-workout.
- Adequate hydration is vitally important for optimal performance and recovery. Athletes want to aim for .5 ounce to 1 ounce of water per pound of bodyweight per day, and sip water while training to prevent dehydration.
- Focus on eating anti-inflammatory foods (greens, vegetables, fish, organic/grass-fed) while limiting foods that cause inflammation (sugars, grains, dairy, alcohol) to ensure optimal performance/recovery while training.
- Alcohol consumption of less than two drinks will have minimal effects on recovery, however excessive alcohol will have negative effects on performance/recovery. The best strategy is to eliminate alcohol completely.
- Fasting can have positive effects on recovery, one’s power-to-weight ratio, body fat percentage, and performance.