Insulin may be a steroid masquerading as a hormone.


Computer-generated image of six insulin molecules assembled in a hexamer.

At the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, a Russian medical officer asked the Olympic Committee whether the use of insulin was restricted to athletes who are insulin dependent diabetics. The incident drew attention to insulin and the IOC were swift to ban it as a performance enhancing drug.

I recently posted a question on Quora asking what the best nutrition book is, and Nutrient Timing by Ivy and Portman came up. The book is excellent and has a huge amount of physiology data on how the human body makes and uses energy. The core concept is this:

In the 45 minutes post exercise, your body has very high insulin sensitivity. This period is referred to as the Anabolic phase. By consuming a drink of protein and carbs in a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio, you can significantly boost your insulin level during this period. You can also prolong this period and increase recovery and growth by continuing to consume said drink 2 hours and again at 4 hours post exercise.

Boosting your insulin levels post exercise reduces protein loss from muscles and improves protein retention. It also speeds recovery by replenishing glycogen and creatine stores. Ivy and Portman spend much of the book citing supporting research from many studies including the Marine Corps.

The book also recommends taking an anti-oxidant post exercise to reduce muscle oxidation.

According to Ivy and Portman and many other nutritionists, the best source of protein is Whey Protein Isolate (links to the one I bought recently) which is rich in branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s). The best source of carbs in their recipe is good old Sucrose (table sugar).

Dara Torres

Dara Torres at the 2008 summer Olympics.

I was chatting to my wife about the book and she mentioned that Dara Torres (three silvers in the previous summer Olympics and the oldest swimmer to ever be on the US Olympic team) drinks chocolate milk as her favorite recovery drink. Chocolate is rich in anti-oxidants, it contains sucrose and milk has some protein, but not enough to make the ratio 4:1. (The sucrose to protein ratio is probably more like 16:1). So I’m guessing that Dara adds a source of protein like whey protein isolate to the drink.

I’m training this year for either a half or full ironman next year and doing a half and full marathon this year to build up to it. I’m currently doing two 5 mile runs and one long run (currently 10 miles) each week. I also swim 2000m two to three times a week and I do the occasional core strength workout. As I built up to my current volume my energy level collapsed – both mental and physical. Once I started looking at my nutrition and using a post workout recovery nutrition plan I came back with a vengance. Two weeks after starting the plan I ran the fastest 5 mile pace I’ve ever run and felt great afterwards.

After doing further reading online I’ve modified my recipe to have a 1:1 ratio of protein to carbohydrates post workout. A 3:1 or 4:1 ratio seems to build a lot of muscle and my goal is to stay lean but recover fast.

My current post workout nutrition plan is:

  • 1 whole raw egg, 56 grams whey protein (two scoops), two tablespoons of molasses (high in phosphorus), a tablespoon of brown sugar, two cups of skim milk, a heaped spoon of cocoa powder. Blend and drink two thirds.
  • Drink the remaining third 1.5 to two hours after workout.