No doubt about it, supplements are a critical component to achieving your physique and performance goals. And, for most of you, that means gaining more strength and endurance while building lean muscle and shedding as much fat as possible. But even if you know the right supplements to take, if you don't take them at the right times, their benefits will be limited.
As they say, "Timing is everything," and that maxim doesn't ring any truer than for supplements. In fact, research confirms that those taking whey and creatine around workouts achieve significantly greater results than those taking them at other times. This is merely one example of the science-backed truth behind supplement timing. To help you get the most bang for your buck, let us walk you through the perfect day of supplementation, from wake-up call to bedtime.
Wake Up Immediately Upon Waking
When you wake up, your body has essentially been fasting for the past 6-9 hours and has begun turning to your muscles for fuel, so you obviously want to stop this process ASAP. Eating eggs or other whole-food proteins, like chicken or dairy, will take far too long to digest and stop the attack on your muscles. The only thing that will work is a whey protein shake, as whey is the fastest digesting form of protein, and in less than 20 minutes, its amino acids will start to reach your muscles. Adding some extra branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) to the shake will further help stop catabolism (muscle breakdown) and turn on muscle protein synthesis.
Also, consider eating a piece of fruit with your protein shake. When you fast all night, your liver uses up its stores of glycogen (the storage form of glucose), which signals the body to use amino acids from your muscles for fuel. The small amount of glucose also doesn't cause a huge blood glucose spike just enough to raise insulin a bit, which also helps to signal the body to stop breaking down muscle.
If you like to start your day with a cup of coffee to give you a kick-start, consider taking a caffeine pill instead. A recent study found that caffeinated coffee kept levels of the muscle-wasting hormone cortisol high in the morning. Even research subjects drinking decaf had slightly higher levels of cortisol than those drinking water, which is likely due to other chemicals present in coffee. A caffeine pill will give you just what you need: a jolt to wake you up and increase fat burning without affecting cortisol as much.
Breakfast 30 To 60 Minutes After Waking
- Multivitamin — 1 dose
- B complex 100 — 1 dose
- Vitamin C — 1,000mg
- Vitamin D — 1,000-3,000 IU
- Vitamin E — 400-800 IU
- Calcium — 500-600mg
- Fish Oil — 2-3g
After your protein shake and a piece of fruit, you can do your usual morning ritual (take a shower, get dressed, do your hair and makeup, etc.). About 30-60 minutes after the shake, it's time to eat again, only this time you want whole foods like eggs and oatmeal. This is also a good time to get in a good dose of some other critical micronutrients that are better absorbed when taken with food. First on the list is your multivitamin and mineral complex. Of course, a hard-training woman needs more of certain vitamins and minerals than most typical multis provide, so add a B vitamin complex; vitamins C, D, and E; along with calcium. You'll also need fish oil, which has a laundry list of benefits, including enhancing heart, brain, and joint health; as well as improving muscle recovery and helping to promote fat loss.
Midmorning 60 To 90 Minutes After Breakfast
Green Tea Extract — 500-1,000mg (standardized for at least 30% EGCG)
Between breakfast and lunch-perhaps with a snack you have during this window-take a dose of green tea extract. Green tea, like fish oil, is nothing short of a wonder supplement. It contains polyphenols, notably EGCG, which not only increases fat burning but aids joint and muscle recovery as well. Drinking green tea, however, won't produce maximum effect. Research shows that the polyphenols from green tea beverages aren't absorbed as readily as those from green tea extract supplements.
Lunch With Lunch
- Fish Oil — 2-3g
Most of us eat lunch at work. And it's tough following a supplement plan when you never know whether lunch is going to be at your favorite local restaurant, during a meeting, or at your desk. Do yourself one favor and store a bottle of fish oil in your desk to take around lunchtime. Taking fish oil within 30 minutes before or after eating is just as good as taking it with a meal.
Pre-Workout No. 1 60 Minutes Before Exercise
FUN FACT: Current research suggests that the combination of caffeine and green tea burned more fat than either supplement alone.
- Caffeine — 200-400mg
- Green Tea Extract — 500-1,000mg (standardized for at least 30% EGCG)
- Pre-Workout NO Booster → 1 dose
If you want to maximize your endurance, strength, and fat burning during your workout (why wouldn't you?), your best bet is to take pre-workout supplements within an hour before training. This is a great time to get in a dose of caffeine to give you the boost you need for an intense workout. A dose of green tea will further enhance fat burning and endurance, as well as aid muscle recovery after the workout.
If you're really serious about training intensity, consider taking a pre-workout nitric oxide (NO) supplement. Boosting NO levels has been shown in clinical studies to increase endurance and strength during workouts as well as aid muscle growth and fat loss. Many NO-boosting products provide caffeine as well, killing two birds with one stone.
Pre-Workout No. 2 15 To 30 Minutes Before Exercise
As the workout gets closer, within 15-30 minutes, think about fueling your body. Although most people think of carbs when they hear the term fuel, your first line of thought should actually be whey protein. Your muscles use amino acids for fuel during intense workouts, and if you don't provide your body with a quick source of aminos (whey), it will take them from your muscles. Pre-workout whey will also be there to help with muscle recovery and growth during the workout. Confused about how muscles start recovering during workouts? Well, you typically train more than one muscle group each workout-for example, chest, triceps, and abs. When you're training triceps, your chest is already in recovery mode, and you don't want to wait until the end of the workout to give it aminos. You'll also want to add BCAAs to this shake. These amino acids are the most critical when it comes to fueling your muscles during workouts. They also trick your brain into blunting fatigue so that you can stay stronger for longer. Then there's creatine, which is not for men only; it is another critical source of fuel for your working muscles. Finally, if you want to further boost energy, endurance, and strength, as well as aid muscle growth and fat loss, add beta-alanine to the mix. This amino acid is gaining the kind of respect that creatine has garnered in the supplement world.
Post-Workout Within 45 Minutes Of Exercise
- Whey Protein — 20g
- Casein Protein — 10-20g
- BCAAs — 5g
- Creatine — 2-5g
- Beta-Alanine — 2-3g
- Fast Carbs — 30-60g
After workouts, you have a 45-minute window, at the most, to refuel your muscles. Miss the window and you just blew your opportunity to maximize muscle recovery. The nutrients here need to work very quickly, so drinking a whey protein shake is your best bet. You also need more BCAAs to ensure that muscle protein synthesis is maximized, as well as more creatine and beta-alanine to restock your muscles for the next workout.
After workouts, you should also add some casein protein to your protein shake. This very-slow-digesting protein keeps protein synthesis going for many hours after the workout to enhance recovery and results.
TIMING TIP: If you're fearful that late-night carbs will be converted to body fat, limit fast carbs post-workout to 20-30g.
During the workout, you burned up a good deal of your muscle glycogen, so you also need to get carbs to your muscles in a hurry. Anything with fructose won't get to your muscles fast enough, so try to avoid foods like fruit or table sugar (sucrose). If you want to go the supplement route for carbs, good choices are dextrose powder (which is essentially glucose) or Vitargo, a branched chain of glucose molecules that has been found to reach muscles faster than sugar. If you prefer to have some fun after workouts and treat yourself, take a look at Wonka candies. The Pixy Stix and Bottle Caps use dextrose as the main sugar; few other candy companies make fructose-free candy. Other good carb options are white bread and white potatoes, which are pure starch (glucose chains).
Dinner With Dinner
Whether you compete in sports or not, a woman who trains as hard as you do, for all intents and purposes, is an athlete. Research shows that athletes lose a lot of micronutrients through training, so make sure to get in another dose of the more critical ones-vitamin C, calcium, vitamin D-with dinner.
Bedtime 30 Minutes Before Going To Bed
We already discussed what happens in your body while you sleep. The good news is, you can help to prevent the muscle breakdown that normally occurs with the help of the slow-digesting protein casein. Just be sure the casein you choose lists micellar casein first on the ingredients list. This is the slowest digesting protein you can get; it takes a good 7-8 hours, providing your body a slow and steady stream of amino acids all night long. Your body will use these amino acids for fuel instead of breaking down the aminos from your muscle fibers. Also, get in one final dose of fish oil at this time. Fat will help to further slow down digestion rate, and the omega-3s will provide a host of other health benefits.