We've discussed the importance of post-workout nutrition in previous articles. As more and more research emerges, however, it's good to continue to review this and really hammer home the point of how important this particular meal is for enhancing recovery, promoting growth, and making you stronger.
Some work has been done in the area of pre-workout nutrition as well. Is there an optimal meal/supplement that can be taken to enhance performance during a workout?
Maybe combining the two, pre- and post-workout, would be the ultimate anabolic booster to optimize progress in the gym. More about that next week; for now, let's concentrate on where most of the research is being conducted.
Before delving into the research, however, let's review the importance of post-workout nutrition and why it should absolutely be a part of every single person's training diet, whether you are trying to lose, gain, or even just maintain your lean body mass. In my next article, I'll talk about a recent study that focused on post workout nutrition to optimize your performance.
When you workout, you deplete muscle glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates). Glycogen is the primary fuel your muscles use for energy production; therefore, optimizing glycogen stores is important and it's one of the reasons energy levels decrease when reducing carbs.
Subsequently, after a workout, your muscles are like sponges, ready to absorb everything and anything you feed them, which is why you need to focus on the quality of this meal.
Moreover, not only is it important to feed your muscle the carbohydrates they need to promote glycogen synthesis, but it's also crucial to feed some protein to stimulate protein synthesis and inhibit what's known as proteolysis (protein breakdown).
Finally, this feeding is important because if done correctly, it can positively affect the hormonal milieu by naturally increasing growth hormone and insulin, which are both potent hormones necessary for muscle growth.
Each of the aforementioned components of growth and recovery are enhanced during the first 2 hours after exercise, which reinforces the importance of this meal.
Getting It Done
So there's the scientific mumbo jumbo - the "why" you should do this part of it; now here's the "what" should you use to "get 'er done.
First, you want a carbohydrate that has a high glycemic index (e.g., maltodextrin: GI ~156, and glucose: GI 138) to cause a drastic increase in insulin levels.
Remember, insulin is the carrier of the nutrients so you want to ensure a boost in insulin levels. Further, hyperinsulinemia (high insulin levels) suppresses amino acid decreases and prevents a negative nitrogen balance, which is normal after training.
You want nitrogen to at least be maintained, or more ideally positive-working out will cause a shift in this system, though, and because you're actually breaking down muscle tissue during this period, you'll be in a negative nitrogen balance if not properly fed (i.e., post workout).
Since carbs do nothing to enhance nitrogen balance, which is dependent on protein intake, you need to also ensure protein is a component of your post workout drink or meal (PWO).
When hyperinsulinemia is coupled with high quality, quick acting protein, such as whey protein isolate and free-form amino acids, there is a synergistic relationship that occurs among them.
Specific amino acids independent of whole proteins, are potent stimulators of protein synthesis and recovery and could help enhance immune status during and after intense training and promote a positive nitrogen balance, as alluded to earlier.
When I say free-form amino acids, I'm not suggesting taking a handful of pills with your post-workout meal. There are actually specific aminos that have been shown to independently stimulate skeletal muscle protein synthesis. Leucine has been shown in several studies to independently stimulate skeletal muscle protein synthesis.
In fact, in one particular study, recovery of muscle protein synthesis was stimulated by leucine supplementation and was not dependent on plasma insulin levels. This suggests that leucine, in combination with carbohydrate, can enhance recovery.
Skeletal muscle is the principle site for degradation of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAA's); however, leucine is disproportionately incorporated into skeletal muscle proteins accounting for approximately 9% of muscle amino acids and therefore supplemental leucine can be beneficial during recovery.
One study reported that the anabolic effect of a complete mixture of amino acids can be reproduced with the branched chain amino acid leucine alone.
Next, although whey protein isolate is naturally high in the amino acid glutamine, additional doses of this amino acid are recommended because exercise (or any stress) lowers plasma glutamine levels.
Several studies have demonstrated that maintaining baseline levels actually enhances the immune system by reducing the risk of illness and infection. Therefore, glutamine may be effective as part of a recovery beverage.
So, I guess the next question is how much of each of these ingredients?
Well, first and foremost, you don't have to use a recovery beverage. I personally prefer them; they are not only absorbed more rapidly, but they also contribute to your fluid intake, which an overall important part of recovery.
There are a number of research studies in this area; some of shown a positive effect from carbohydrate-protein in a 2:1 ratio, some have shown a 3:1 ratio, and others a 4:1 ratio, meaning for every 2, 3, or 4 grams of carbohydrate, you consume 1 gram of protein.
To put it another way, if you were consuming 60 grams of carbohydrate, you would consume 30 grams protein (2:1), 20 grams protein (3:1), or 15 grams protein (4:1). Still with me?
There is also enough supportive research to show approximately 3 grams of leucine (in addition to that which you'll get from the whey) and 5 grams of glutamine are effective. If you prefer 'real' food, determine what foods meet these requirements and enjoy.
Keep in mind that you do not want fat or fiber in this meal, as both slow down the absorption. Moreover, aside from pre- and post-workout (and maybe during), it's the one meal of the day you should consume simple, high glycemic carbs... so enjoy and you'll be on your way to recovery and growth.
This is just a quick summary of the topic. If you're interested in more great information about how to grow and recover, check out WeaponsforMass.com for an entire book on this type of information on nutrition and training, along with a 12-week sample plan!