A friend of mine asked me a common question about leg strength, muscle loss, and what to do. After some research (which I have done mostly in the past for the same question) I answered in sort of a lengthy way. What I didn't include was research that was conducted on a tour cycling team. They actually recorded significant upper leg circumference size loss after a stage race. They concluded it was due to insufficient protein amounts which resulted in muscle loss. However, as you see below, there are advantages to the timing of the protein and even the source of the protein. Also, I loosely follow Joe Friel's strength training plan as far as weight training is concerned.
I am sure you have heard this before, it seems my legs actually get smaller after a hard race or towards the end of the season. I only supplement with some good whey powder and a accelerade/cytomax sludge (mix), wondering if you have any quick suggestions.
Eat/drink something carb based before your harder and/or longer workouts. More importantly eat/drink IMMEDIATELY after your workouts (within 30 minutes after the workout). Then eat a regular meal within a couple hours. Some post workout drinks can be a meal if you throw a ton of stuff in there.
When making a post-workout recovery drink, make sure you are adding some sort of carbohydrate to the powder. Calculate the protein grams vs. the carb grams--this is easy--you don't need to be a chemist. The carbs should be 4 times the protein (4 to 1 ratio, 4:1). For example, if you have a low carb protein powder (which many are) that has 20 grams of protein per serving, make sure you are also taking in 80 grams of carbs. An easy way to boost the carbs in a protein drink is by stirring in some chocolate syrup (if you like chocolate milk) and/or some fruit. You can also get strawberry syrup. Protein alone doesn't do much for you--it needs 4x's the carbs for your body to process/metabolize it (that's why low carb diets seem to work--there are no carbs so the calories from the meat go right thru you). Also, the next time you buy protein powder, try a soy based one. I get mine from GNC, but there are others out there. I am not trying to push an animal-free diet, but there are significant benefits to soy and some possible harmful effects of too much animal based protein. Animal based proteins block/inhibit the absorbtion of calcium to your bones (that's why the FDA tells us to get so much calcium--because they know the average american diet contains a lot of meat and milk foods). If you are deficient on calcium because you're taking/eating in too much animal protein, your body will steal calcium from your bones to make up for it. And you can't just pop calcium supplements because they don't do much--better to get real calcium from real foods (many veggies contain calcium and we don't even realize it). It's speculated that some stress fractures (ie: from running) are related poor bone absorbtion of calcium. Athletes can't figure out why they get fractures because they drink so much milk and supplement with egg and whey powders thinking their bones are extra strong. Hmmm... You may be able to get a sample or one serving size packet of soy protein from GNC or a different nutrition store to try it out for taste. One jug lasts me a long time because I only take it a couple times a week. Sometimes after a workout I just guzzle a glass of chocolate soy milk (Silk brand & HyVee's store brand are great) or mix herseys syrup in regular soy milk. 12 oz of soy milk gets you around 10-11 grams of protein, 8 carbs, and the same amount of calcium as cows milk. Mix in 2 tablespoons of syrup for 20-25 more carbs. That's almost a 4:1 ratio. That will buy you some time to make a meal, but at least you have something in your body to start the recovery process. If you are out of town or at a race, you can take the milk with you to drink right afterwords--then chow the cookies, fruit or whatever they have.
One note-- protein from peanuts/peanut butter are great because they are excellent sources of proteins and good fats, but not right after a workout--you don't need the fats after a workout.
If all else fails and you are stuck without your recovery drink, take down a coke, gatorade, a candy bar--anything with calories is better than nothing as it starts the recovery process. Sounds bad, but you gotta get something in you.