by Sarah Koszyk, M.A., RDN, Registered Sports Dietitian/Nutritionist
Success. Completion. Accomplishment. Congratulations, you’ve just finished running an ultramarathon, most likely about 31, 50 or 100 miles. The time it took you to run could have been 6 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours or even 6 days! You are elated, enlightened and extremely exhausted. But you still need to refuel and recover. So what product will work best for your ultimate recovery? Which products provide you with the nutrients you need for your body’s optimal repair? We researched the marketplace and analyzed many products to help you determine which products work best for you and which products will take your recovery to the maximum level.
The bottom line for optimal recovery is a product that has appropriate carbohydrates and proteins. Fats are important, too, for satiety, nourishment and adequate vitamin absorption. However, the carbs and the proteins are extremely valuable for your ideal recovery. Think about it: you have just pushed yourself to the limit. The first half of the race, you were running with your legs, focusing on fueling from whatever products you chose to use. The second half of the race was a mind game as you continued to move and run past the point of physical exhaustion. All the while, you maintained energy levels with your food and drink consumption. And now the race is over! It’s time to kick back and congratulate yourself, but just as important, it’s also time to refuel, repair and recover.
Carbohydrates are important components of recovery. Most likely, you have depleted your muscle and liver glycogen stores regardless of how well you fueled during the race. Muscle and liver glycogen provide our bodies with energy. Since the energy stores are depleted, you need to replenish them. The faster you consume carbohydrates shortly after completing your race, the more you will enhance the rate of muscle glycogen synthesis (building that energy), which will make it easier for you to recover. Adding in those extra carbohydrates after a run while the blood is still flowing and your heart is still pounding is extremely beneficial. Your muscle cells are more sensitive to the effects of the carbohydrate when they are warmed up, so they are more likely to soak up the carbs and make more glycogen for your body. Time to fill up your storage units, ASAP!
Glucose and sucrose are twice as effective as fructose in restoring muscle glycogen after exercise, because fructose is first converted to liver glycogen, whereas glucose skips going to the liver and goes directly to the muscles. Whether the carbs are simple or complex doesn’t really matter. You can increase your muscle glycogen with both types of carbs. The main goal is to have the carbs contain glucose and/ or sucrose so they bypass the liver and go straight to your muscles for optimal recovery. Also, the faster you start to increase your muscle glycogen by making some more, the better recovery you will have. You’ll feel less muscle soreness. Your legs won’t quiver every time you sit down. And you’ll feel happily exhausted post race. You won’t feel like you are going to pass out and not get up again. You want to focus on high glycemic carb sources because higher glycemic carbs will be easily digested in the body and rapidly assimilated. Lower glycemic carbs tend to take longer to get absorbed and are not ideal for efficient restoration of muscle glycogen. According to the Journal of Sports Science, after the race, you want to consume 1.0 to 1.2 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight within the first 15-30 minutes (1 pound = 2.2 kilograms. For example, 150 pound person = 68.2 kilos. Therefore, this person will need about 70 grams of carbs for recovery post race).
Protein is also essential post exercise. By getting your protein, you will also optimize your recovery by producing a higher amount of new muscle tissue. During your race, you tore your muscles, you stretched yourself to your limits and you depleted your muscle glycogen stores. The faster you intake protein post run, the better your body will replenish and restore those muscles. Protein sources that have Branched-Chain Amino Acids – leucine, isoleucine and valine – are optimal because they bypass the liver and go straight to the muscles for repair. Other proteins go to the liver first before hitting up the muscles (remember the different types of carbs? Same idea here). All this means is that it takes a little longer for the other proteins to work their magic. Thus, many products have included branched-chain amino acids for ideal recovery.
Glutamine is a nonessential amino acid which decreases after endurance training. Glutamine is important in the body to protect the immune system and improve recovery. Glutamine also makes other important chemicals in the body and provides fuel for them, so it’s good for repair and growth. Protein intake is important to maintain peak muscle mass. By consuming protein post run, you’ll be able to stimulate protein synthesis, which will help repair the muscles and speed up your recovery. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Sports Nutrition Manual, you need 6-20 grams of protein within 15-30 minutes post run for optimal recovery.
The companies we contacted provided us with their bars and powders for UltraRunning magazine to review. We worked with enthusiastic and informative staff members who believe in their products and are interested in optimizing the strength and recovery of the runner. You will find them sponsoring races, you will see them being promoted by other athletes and you will probably have tried them yourself once or twice. Some of the products are newer and some of the products have been on the block for a long time. It’s good to note that a few of the long-standing product brands have revamped their formulas based on the latest and greatest research, so you’ll be able to trust that even if a brand is “older,” the companies are still doing their best to stay on the forefront of innovation, optimization and performance enhancement. Let’s take a look at the products!
One thing to note is that there is no “right” or “wrong” form of recovery. Whether you choose to eat “real food,” consume a bar or chug a drink, the basic fact is you just need to get in your carbs and proteins after your event. The source of the carbs and proteins is your choice. Whatever preference you have, you have options! Whether you are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free or a meat-eater, there are bars and powders out there for you! We now have bars and powders that are gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, kosher and more. The following review covers some of the long-standing products in the ultra world as well as some new ones. We’ve also included what sets each product apart from the others.
Powdered Drink Mixes
160-170 calories in one packet (46g) with 30-33g of carbs and 10g of protein (depending on flavor). The proteins are from milk proteins, which have whey and casein. These contain Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) to maximize the body’s muscle-building potential. The powder is unique in that it contains 70% organic ingredients and it is kosher. Flavors: Orange Mango and Chocolate.
R4 270-280 calories in one packet or two scoops (74g) with 52g of carbs and 13g of protein (depending on flavor). The 4:1 ratio is important in increasing insulin, which aids in restoring glycogen post workout since insulin transports sugar to the muscle where it can be converted to glycogen. The carbs come primarily from dextrose and maltodextrin. The protein is from whey protein concentrate and soy protein isolate. L-glutamine is present. The powder contains 730% of the daily value of vitamin E (based on a 2,000 calorie diet), which is important for protecting cell membranes, especially in the lungs, where there’s constant contact with oxygen. Flavors: Fruit Punch, Tangy Orange, Lemon Lime, Vanilla and Chocolate.
ACCELERADE 120 calories in one packet (31g) with 21g of carbs and 5g of protein. Accelerade is primarily used before and during performance but can also be used in recovery due to the 4:1 ratio of carbs and proteins. Contains 100% of daily value of vitamin E (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). Unique in that it contains caffeine. A small study involving cyclists showed that consuming caffeine post workout resulted in the cyclists experiencing less muscle soreness. However, due to the lower amount of calories and proteins, the product is primarily used before and during endurance events. Flavors: Fruit Punch, Lemon Lime, Lemonade, Orange, Mountain Berry.
128-140 calories in two scoops (39g) with 25-27g of carbs and 7g of protein (depending on flavor). Primary carb source comes from maltodextrin, dextrose and fructose. The protein comes from whey protein isolates. Also contains L-glutamine. Gluten-free and contains no artificial ingredients, colors or flavors. No lactose. Recommended to take with water or milk. Flavors: Chocolate Wave, Berry Treasure and Tropical Escape.
320 calories in two scoops (91g) with 60g of carbs and 20g of protein. The high glycemic carbs include dextrose, which is 100% glucose. Contains whey protein isolates and hydrolyzed whey protein. Hydrolyzed proteins are quickly absorbed for muscle recovery because they are enzymatically predigested in di- and tri-peptide chains. The powder contains BCAAs and L-glutamine in addition to 50% of the daily value of vitamin D and 1250% of the daily value of vitamin E (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). Research and studies have suggested that there is a strong correlation between vitamin D and optimal muscle function. Vitamin D can reduce inflammation and pain while increasing muscle protein synthesis, strength and physical performance. Athletes can also experience fewer stress fractures and less musculoskeletal pain if sufficient in vitamin D. Mix the powder with water. Flavors: Cappuccino, Orange Cream and Tropical Punch.
240-250 calories in one packet (60g) with 46-52g of carbs and 8g of protein (depending on flavor). The carbs come from maltodextrin and fructose. The protein comes from whey protein isolates which contain BCAAs. In addition, there’s L-glutamine and L-arginine. The incorporation of arginine is meant to assist with glucose conversion, since arginine is glycogenic. Flavors: Orange-Pineapple, Strawberry-Watermelon, Chocolate Smoothie.
170 calories in two level scoops with 32g-33g of carbs and 10g of protein (depending on the flavor). Carbs come from maltodextrin, which can be absorbed as fast as glucose and has a high glycemic index. The protein comes from whey protein isolates, which contain BCAAs to reduce muscle damage and speed recovery. In addition, there’s added L-glutamine and L-carnosine for enhanced protein synthesis. Hammer Recoverite uses a 3:1 carb/protein ratio in order to focus on lean muscle mass recovery as the main objective. This product is gluten-free. Flavors: Vanilla, Orange-Vanilla, Strawberry and Chocolate.
90 calories in one scoop (24g) with 6g of carbs and 15g of protein. The powder contains sucrose for the primary carb source. For the protein source, it has whey protein isolate in addition to micellar casein and L-glutamine. Dr. Stacy Sims is co-founder and chief research officer at Osmo. She specializes in gastrointestinal distress and hydration of athletes. She has worked with hundreds of ultra athletes in addition to USA Olympians. Osmo is unique in that it contains 60% of the daily value of vitamin D (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). The powder is recommended to be consumed with water or almond milk and the serving size of fluid is based on one’s body weight. The more a person weighs, the more scoops of powder one will need to consume. Flavor: Vanilla.
ACUTE RECOVERY FOR WOMEN 80 calories in one scoop (23g) with 4g of carbs and 15g of protein. Organic cane sugar is the primary carb source. Whey protein isolate, micellar casein and L-glutamine provide the protein sources and amino acids. Unique in that the formula also aims at reducing hormonal influences on recovery. It also contains 60% of the daily value of recommended vitamin D (based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Flavor: Honey & Spice.
160 calories in one packet or 1.5 scoops (45g) with 27g carbs and 12g protein (vanilla cream flavor) and 200 calories in one packet or 1.5 scoops (45g) with 33g carbs and 13g protein (chocolate flavor). Unique source of carbohydrates comes from SuperStarch, which is a hydrothermally cooked non-GMO corn starch. SuperStarch provides athletes with a low osmolality so that there is more of a slow “time-released” glucose profile. This can be helpful post exercise by still supporting maintenance of blood sugars and glycogen synthesis but encouraging the continued burning of fat. The slow-absorbing carbs lower insulin during exercise to promote increased use of fat during exercise. Therefore, glycogen stores are spared, which means you need to replenish less during recovery. Primary protein sources are whey protein isolates. Meb Keflezighi, 2014 Boston Marathon champion, recovered with UCAN.
127-134 calories in one scoop (36g) with 4.5-6g of carbs and 25-26g of protein (depending on flavor). Brendan Brazier, two-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion, is the formulator of these plant-based, vegan nutritional products. Protein comes from pea protein, sacha inchi, sprouted whole grain brown rice protein and alfalfa protein. The powder includes 5,000mg of BCAAs and 5,000mg of L-glutamine per serving. Sacha inchi also provides Omega-3 fats, which can potentially aid in decreasing infl ammation, decreasing muscle soreness and reducing muscle swelling post workout due to the augmented blood fl ow to muscles during exercise. Recommended to be used in conjunction with Recovery Accelerator for optimal results because the Recovery Accelerator provides more carbohydrates. Contains complete proteins from plantbased sources and is 100% vegan.
RECOVERY ACCELERATOR 90 calories in one pack (27g) with 20g carbs and 4g protein. Features a 4:1 ratio of carbs to proteins to increase muscle glycogen synthesis. Protein sources come from yellow pea protein and whole grain brown rice. Contains L-glucosamine and L-arginine. Maca is also present and can provide increased vitality and energy. However, maca is usually recommended preworkout due to the increased energy component to enhance performance. Ginseng is included for energy, too. Turmeric (53mg) is also present and can reduce infl ammation and potentially aid in recovery. Recommended to be used in conjunction with Performance Protein for optimal protein intake.
200 calories per one bar serving (53g) with 32g of carbs and 8g of protein. Blend of carbohydrates including agave nectar, maltodextrin, brown rice syrup and dextrose. Protein comes from whey protein concentrate, pea protein isolate and soy protein isolate. Also contains L-glutamine and L-arginine for optimal recovery needs. Lower in protein than other recovery bars. Contains 100% of the daily value of vitamin E (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). The bar has a nougatlike texture. Flavor: Chocolate Peanut Butter.
270-280 calories per one bar serving with 30g carbs and 20g protein (depending on flavor). Organic brown rice syrup and organic dried cane syrup provide the main carbohydrate sources. No artificial sweeteners or flavors or genetically modifi ed organisms are included in the ingredients. The bar does not contain any sugar alcohols, which may affect some people’s guts in a negative way. Soy protein isolates provide the primary source of protein. Flavors: Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Mint, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Cookies ’n Cream, Crunchy Peanut Butter, S’mores, Vanilla Almond. BUILDER’S MAX 380- 390 calories per one bar serving with 39-40g carbs and 30g protein (depending on flavor). The carbs come from soy crisps, which contain soy fl our, organic cane syrup and organic brown rice syrup. The bar is promoted as low glycemic. Soy protein isolates, soy protein concentrates, whey protein isolates and casein provide the primary protein sources. No artificial sweeteners or flavors or genetically modified organisms are included in the ingredients. The bar does not contain any sugar
140-200 calories per one bar serving with 9-10g of carbs and 10-14g of protein (depending on flavor). The main carbohydrate source comes from the natural fruits found in the product. Fruits mainly have a mix of glucose and fructose. Unique in that the primary protein source comes from real meat. All the ingredients in the bars are from 100% natural sources. The beef, bison and lamb are all grass-fed. The product is paleo friendly, gluten-free, low glycemic, soyfree, dairy-free and nitrite-free. The animals are raised on pasture-based farms, which are more sustainable than factory farms. Texture of the bar is similar to jerky. If you are looking for a savory recovery bar, this is it. Flavors: Bison Bacon Cranberry, Beef Habanero Cherry, Turkey Almond Cranberry and Lamb Currant Mint. alcohols. Flavors: Caramel Peanut, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Mint Chocolate Chip.
Whey Recovery Bar 330 calories in one bar (75g) with 25g of carbs and 20 grams of protein. The carbs come from organic agave. Protein comes from grass-fed cows, which provide a whey protein blend. The blend includes whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolates and organic brown rice protein. BCAAs are present due to the whey protein. Classified as a low glycemic bar. Provides 70% organic ingredients, is gluten-free, GMO-free, kosher and has no simple sugars. Flavor: Chewy Peanut Butter Chocolate.
Vegan Recovery Bar 240 calories in one bar (57g) with 21-27g of carbs and 14-15g of protein (depending on flavor). Carbs come from organic tapioca. Protein comes from organic almond butter, pea protein and organic rice protein. The almond cacao flavor is soy-free. Unique in that the product is vegan, gluten-free, kosher and has no simple sugars. Actual chunks of cacao, almonds and peanuts are present in the bars (depending on flavor). Flavors: Almond Cacao and Chocolate Peanut.
180-190 calories per one bar serving (42g) with 18-19g of carbs and 10g of protein (depending on flavor). Primary carb source is cane juice and organic honey. The protein comes from whey protein isolates. The goal of the company is to provide natural ingredients in the bars. You can find small chunks of fruit or nuts in the bar depending on the flavor. One of the bars contains caffeine (Dark Chocolate Mocha Cherry). All flavors of the bars are kosher. Claims to be gluten-free, but is processed on machinery that processes gluten products, so the bars are not certified gluten-free. Flavors: Peanut Butta, Dark Chocolate Coconut Almond, Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond, Dark Chocolate Mint Almond and Caffeinated Dark Chocolate Mocha Cherry.
230 calories in one bar (45g) with 15g of carbs and 10g of protein. The carbs come from honey and glucose. The bar is promoted as low glycemic. Protein comes from pea protein isolate, hemp seeds and a variety of nuts and seeds (varies depending on flavor). All the bars contain at least almonds and pumpkin seeds. 30% of the recommended daily value of vitamin E is present (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). Contains all natural ingredients, natural sources of proteins and all nine essential amino acids. Gluten-free, whey-free, soy-free and no genetically modified organisms. These are savory bars. The fat from the nuts provides satiety and nourishment. Flavors: Roasted Jalapeno, Hickory Smoked, Honey Mustard, Thai Sweet Chili and Honey Smoked BBQ.
170-190 calories in one bar (45g) with 19-21g of carbs and 12g of protein (depending on flavor). Primary carb source is from organic cane syrup and the bar is classified as low glycemic due to the balance of carbs, proteins and fats. Soy and whey protein sources are the primary proteins. The bar is catered to the female athlete. No high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, synthetic preservatives or genetically modified organisms are in the bar. It is gluten-free and kosher. The bars also contain 15% of the daily value of vitamin D and 30% of the daily value of vitamin E (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). Depending on the flavor, the bars contain real chunks of fruit, nuts and/or chocolate chips. Flavors: Chocolate Cherry Almond, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Mint Chocolate Chip, Lemon Vanilla and Chocolate Coconut Almond.
290-320 calories in one bar (80g) with 34-38g of carbs and 25-27g of protein. Depending on the flavor, the sugar comes from agave and/or cane sugar. The protein comes from non-GMO whey protein which provides BCAAs. Protein also comes from brown rice protein concentrate. No soy, no maltitol, no sugar alcohols. The bar is kosher and gluten-free. Crispy, crunchy texture. Flavors: Cookies ’n Cream, Real Dark Chocolate with Caramel, Peanut Cluster and Caramel Pretzel.
DARK 200-205 calories in one bar (50g) with 28-30g of carbs and 10g of protein (depending on flavor). Carbs come from cane sugar and agave syrup. Protein comes from non-GMO soy protein isolates. Vegan and gluten-free. Flavors: Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Mocha Chocolate, Mint Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter Cup and Chocolate Pretzel with Sea Salt. SLIM 170-190 calories in one bar (45g) with 18-20g of carbs and 15-17g of protein (depending on flavor). Main source of carbs is cane sugar. Main protein comes from non-GMO soy protein and rice protein. Gluten-free, no maltitol, no artificial sweeteners. Two flavors are vegan (Crunchy Peanut Butter and Espresso). Flavors: Brownie Crunch, Crunchy Peanut Butter, Raspberry Truffl e, Roasted Peanut and Espresso.
ProteinPlus Bar 20G 210-280 calories in one bar (60-61g) with 25-27g of carbs and 20g of protein (depending on flavor). Carbohydrates come from maltitol syrup, fructose, milk and cane syrup. Protein sources come from whey protein isolates, soy protein isolates and a calcium caseinate blend. Has BCAAs from the whey protein. No artificial flavors or preservatives. Flavors: Chocolate Mint Cookie, Peanut Butter Cookie, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Vanilla, Chocolate Crisp, Cookies N Cream
ProteinPlus Bar 22G 270 calories in one bar (70g) with 30g of carbs and 22g of protein. The bar has 30g of carbs with only 1g of sugar. The main carbs come from maltitol syrup, a sugar alcohol which is a sugar substitute. The bar is recommended for athletes who are limiting their table sugar intake. Protein sources come from TriSource™ Protein Blend with whey protein isolates, soy protein isolates and a calcium caseinate blend. The bar contains 45% of the daily value of vitamin E (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). No artificial flavors or preservatives. Flavors: Chocolate Peanut Butter Reduced Sugar.
ProteinPlus Bar 30G 360 calories in one bar (90g) with 34-35g of carbs and 30g of protein (depending on flavor). Carbs come from cane invert syrup and milk. Protein is from a TriSource™ Protein Blend including soy protein isolates, whey protein isolate and calcium caseinate. You can also fi nd L-leucine added. Gelatin is present. Flavors: Chocolate Brownie, Dulce de Leche.
280-290 calories in one bar (70g) with 32-33g of carbs and 20g of protein (depending on flavor). Carbs come from organic tapioca syrup, organic cane juice, organic agave syrup and sugar. Protein comes from soy protein isolates. Unique in that the bar also has chia and fl axseeds which provide Omega-3 fatty acids, which aid in reducing infl ammation, decreasing muscle soreness and reducing swelling of muscles post workout due to the augmented blood fl ow to muscles during exercise. Vegan and gluten-free. Flavors: Cookie Dough, Mint Chocolate, Peanut Butter Chocolate, Brownie Crisp.
PRO SERIES 330-350 calories in one bar (90g) with 37-40g of carbs and 28g of protein. Carbs come from brown rice syrup, sugar and inverted evaporated cane syrup. Protein comes from whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. No artificial sweeteners, no sucralose, no maltitol, no gelatin, gluten-free and kosher. Flavors: Triple Chocolate Crips and Peanut Butter Crisp. PROTEIN BAR 280 calories in one bar (75g) with 37g of carbs and 20g of protein. Carbs come from sugar, corn syrup, and honey. Protein comes from soy protein isolate, whey protein concentrate and calcium caseinate. The bar uses Greek yogurt, which also provides BCAAs. Contains 25% daily value of vitamin E (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). No artificial sweeteners, preservatives or flavors. No gelatin. Kosher and gluten-free. Flavor: Greek Yogurt Honey Nut.
PROMAX LS 220-240 calories in one bar (57g) with 32-34g of carbs and 18g of protein. Carbs come from sugar found in the chocolate and fructose (depending on the flavor). Protein comes from soy protein isolate, pea protein isolate, milk protein concentrate and whey concentrate. Contains BCAAs from the whey. Marketed as low sugar because it is sweetened with stevia and uses a low amount of sugar in the chocolate. No artificial sweeteners, preservatives or flavors. No gelatin. Kosher and gluten-free. Flavors: Peanut Butter Cookie Dough, Peanut Butter Chocolate, Chocolate Fudge.
240-260 calories in one bar (60g) with 27-30g of carbs and 15g of protein. Carbs come from organic cane sugar, organic tapioca syrup and organic brown rice syrup. The protein comes from organic sprouted whole grain brown rice protein and pea protein. Each bar provides 2.5g of plantbased BCAAs and 2g of L-glutamine. Omega-3s are also present from the sacha inchi oil used in the bars. The bars are non-GMO, gluten-free, dairyfree, soy-free and made without artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners. Vegan. Recommended to take in conjunction with the other two recovery powder products, Recovery Accelerator and Performance Protein. Flavors: Chocolate Mint, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Chocolate Coconut.
The best part about finding a product you enjoy is trying them all out! Determine what products you want based on what they have to offer. Does the product fi t your protein and carbohydrate needs? Does it offer any specific dietary options that align with your food preferences or allergies? Does it appeal to your taste buds? Do you want a drink or do you want a bar? Are there any moral or ethical components involved (local, organic or sustainable)? We all have likes and dislikes. Some of us prefer sweet and some of us want the hearty, savory flavor. The choice is yours. Ask yourself what you are looking for and you will find a product that fits your wants and needs. The main point is to consume something right after the event. Stay fueled and nourished. You will feel so much better a few hours later, the next day and the day after that if you optimize your recovery immediately following the race. Remember: Refuel, Repair and Recover! Happy Running, and Recovering!