Forget the gel packets, technologically advanced sports drinks and special powders.
All the nutrition you need for a tough workout may already be in your kitchen.
A steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup could be the best preparation for exercise, and pickle juice or chocolate milk may help your body recover afterward, according to Neil Johannsen, an assistant professor of kinesiology at LSU who collaborates with studies at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
Chicken soup for your workout
No, really. Well known as a remedy for stuffy noses and sore throats, chicken noodle soup may also be the best breakfast to prepare for tough exercise.
While earning his doctorate at Iowa State University, Johannsen studied the effects of chicken noodle soup on cyclists’ performance. The test subjects who ate soup before their strenuous exercise were better hydrated, as eating the salty chicken broth made them drink more.
They also scored higher on cognitive performance tests — how effective their brains worked during exercise.
Athletes see a change in their performance upon sweating out 2 percent of their body weight, Johannsen said, but it appears that the brain is affected much sooner.
So soup may help competitors stay sharp.
“That may not be important in a marathon,” Johannsen said, “but if you’re out playing football and it’s toward the end of the game and you can think or react a little bit better, it may actually translate into a better physical performance because your cognition’s better.”
Juice those cramps away
Coaches often keep jars on their desks to give players in the dead of summer, and science may be on the coaches’ side.
Pickle juice has lots of sodium, one of the important electrolytes that muscles need and one that is reduced by sweat.
A 2010 study published in the “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” journal found that drinking pickle juice ends cramps faster than water, possibly because of a reaction in the brain.
In Iowa, Johannsen saw high school wrestlers guzzle the briny liquid after sweating off pounds to make a lower target weight for a match.
“They need a rapid re-hydration beverage after they cut weight,” Johannsen said. “They’ll drink some pickle juice. Because of the electrolytes, it actually helps them absorb and maintain a better fluid balance.”
During hot Louisiana summers, drinking the briney green stuff during exercise may prevent dehydration — if you can stand the taste.
“From that aspect, from an electrolyte- and sodium-replacement beverage,” Johannsen said, “I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
Get out your straws. Studies found chocolate milk contains the correct carbohydrate-to-protein ratio needed to rebuild and refuel muscles after a tough workout.
In tests, participants ran for 45 minutes, then drank 16 ounces of chocolate milk or a sports drink similar to Gatorade. Doctors then took biopsies of the runners’ muscles.
The milk drinkers showed more signs of muscle repair, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
“It’s got some carbohydrate and some protein, so it can help refuel the body, help build muscle glycogen,” said Neil Johannsen, an assistant professor at LSU’s school of kinesiology. “It may help build back some of the fuel stores you use during exercise.”
But there have been no long-term tests on chocolate milk’s effectiveness.
“If you’re sedentary and you start weightlifting, there’s nothing to show that if you drink chocolate milk every time after you do an exercise bout that you’re going to be better off six months later,” Johannsen said.
Chocolate milk may help prevent soreness after a workout, but Johannsen said soreness is difficult to study because it is psychological.
“It’s hard to determine if it’s because you have this pre-conceived notion that milk is going to help you, or it actually helps you. I guess in that sense it doesn’t matter because if you think it works, it works.”