Pre/During/Post Workout Nutrition!

What the supplement companies want you to think is that they hold the key to some magical information and science that you can not get your hands on or even possibly comprehend...

Of all the routes to getting the most from your knuckle bleeding and shin cracking workouts, pre-, during-, and post-workout nutrition seems to have the greatest impact. You already know this. Cram some food in your pie whole as soon as you can after a workout, right? Better yet, get one of those fancy packaged meal replacements into your gut and you will grow, right? Oh wait, why not one meal replacement before my workout and then one after, that will get me to grow! Yes, it will be better than nothing at all, and probably work quite well, but just looking at those prices, you will have nothing left for the really exciting supplements that will make you bend the squat bar over your bulging traps.

What the supplement companies want you to think is that they hold the key to some magical information and science that you can not get your hands on or even possibly comprehend. To this date, some of them have done a pretty good job at it, but we are going to bust the bank on pre-, during-, and post-workout nutrition and hopefully piss some people off.

In the past, there has been a lot of research on how nutritional supplements can improve performance pre-, during-, and post-exercise. Many of these studies focused upon aerobic type exercise. I guess weight training was for steroid abusing freaks that needed to eat small children to survive. It is not surprising that these studies centered around carbohydrates only and left out proteins. These early researchers were following the abilities of carbohydrate-loading endurance athletes to postpone the onset of fatigue in upwards of 20% or more [2, 9]. There is definitely a trail a marathon long on how to improve endurance performance with a diet rich in carbohydrates [4, 12, 18, 19].

The next step was to focus on pre-exercise carbohydrate ingestion. Pre-exercise carbohydrate intake can have a profound impact on endurance performance. But the extent of its efficacy is somewhat dependent upon pre-exercise glycogen levels. The lower you glycogen levels, the greater the need for ingested glucose, and the more of an impact pre-ingestion can have. Keeping blood glucose levels high during all types of moderate to high intensity, long duration activities can sustain higher rates of carbohydrate oxidation [1, 8, 24]. Great, but this is only important when the muscular levels of carbohydrate reach critically low levels -- it's not a real concern for a bodybuilder, unless he is on a ketogenic diet.

Now, let's shift gears to short term intermittent maximal exercises and resistance training -- the type of information that we are all interested in. When short, maximal exercises are performed with sufficient rest and in low quantities, it has been shown that it is the creatine-phosphate system that becomes the most taxed [7]. As soon as we either a) dramatically increase the number of sprints/ lifts, b) decreased the rest intervals to very short times, c) make recovery active in nature, or d) more than one of these combined, the nature of the game totally changes [3, 10].

When we do this the body is forced to go past the very limited stores of creatine-phosphate and turn to glucose/glycogen for energy. So, just like the endurance athletes, low carbohydrate levels can impair performance in sprinters, weightlifters, middle distance runners, and just about anyone who pushed their soul. Granted, these types of activities probably will not normally reach as deep into the reserves as endurance training, but let's remember the low carbohydrate diets of today and how they have become a part of bodybuilding.

Where Exactly Does Weightlifting Fit Into All Of This?

Weightlifting fits right smack dab in the middle. Contrary to the lore that has developed in the bodybuilding community, carbohydrates are essential to maximal exercise performance of a bodybuilding training regimen [13,17,20]. And, that doesn't even get into their positive effects on anabolic hormones, which we can discuss at a different time.

In general, the more sets to failure during a workout, the greater the depletion of stored glycogen. Low levels of glycogen can reduce your number of muscle bulging repetitions and thus keep you a pencil neck every year. Also, we must realize that muscle glycogen is depleted much more quickly from type II fibers than from type I fibers during high intensity exercise [6]. This makes sense if you understand the physiological specificity between the two fibers -- namely, type I are fueled by oxidative processes, while type II are fueled by anaerobic/glycolytic processes.

Since we, as bodybuilders, rely predominantly upon the fast twitch type II fibers, our diets and training need to be in tune. (Note: Obviously, increasing your levels of stored creatine-phosphate can alter your body's reliance upon glucose because it has more of the primary quick fuel to use. Still, a hard working bodybuilder can work past these available resources.) Now we are getting to the really good stuff.

As bodybuilders and strength athletes, we push ourselves through all types of training in an attempt to get our bodies to adapt and become more barbaric. By doing this we reduce all of the nutrients needed for recovery and growth. Restoring these levels back to, or above, what is needed is crucial. It has been shown that muscle glycogen repletion following high intensity exercise is faster than following endurance activities. Although high intensity results in quick glycogen replenishment, resistance exercise is not at the top of the list [12]. This is where pre or during exercise supplementation can give you a head start and quick acting post-workout nutrition can push the body even further towards an anabolic state.

What Is The Best Pre, During, & Post Nutrition Supplement?

To say what is exactly the very best pre, during, and post nutritional supplement still needs more research. In fact, we will probably never know what is the best. What we do know now is that we can economically use food substances already available to produce a highly anabolic environment and this involves fast acting carbohydrates and proteins.

One of the first influential studies to research a carbohydrate-protein complex focused upon prolonged exhaustive exercise [25]. What was a surprise to the researchers was that their carbohydrate-protein supplement group had a higher level of muscle glycogen resynthesis than did an equal caloric carbohydrate only group, when fed immediately following exercise. It seems that the combination of protein and carbohydrates whoops ass when it comes to raising insulin levels post exercise. This insulin spike resulted in a 38% faster glycogen storage rate than the carbohydrate only group.

Protein alone you ask? You would not want to rob yourself of potential growth by missing out on the positive effects of insulin. The benefits of insulin to the exerciser can be categorized into fast and slow reactions. The fast reactions are possibly the most beneficial to muscle recovery. Insulin is responsible for increasing glycogenesis, protein synthesis, and inhibiting other catabolic actions, such as those of cortisol [9]. Another beneficial action occurs somewhat slower and involves the influx of amino acids into the muscle cells and the promotion of growth over an even longer period of up to 24-hours.

Another major research project took place a couple of years later and focused upon similar scenarios with weightlifters [5]. As you might expect, the carbohydrate-protein complex survived the battle-royal and was declared the official champion. This study took the research a bit further and tested for the changes in the major anabolic hormones; insulin, growth hormone, IGF-1, testosterone, and luteinizing hormone. Again, it is important to note the superb properties of insulin to not only shuttle glucose into the cells and improve glycogen synthesis, but to also have similar actions with protein and, as this study revealed, to increase the release of growth-hormone. This release of growth hormone may or may not significantly affect muscle growth, but it surely will not hurt.

Only minor alterations in the other hormones were noticed in the supplement groups as compared to the control group. No worry though because we are more worried about switching our muscles from a catabolic state post training to one that is anabolic. Insulin and food substrates will make the largest difference because this insulin spike, although not completely able to prevent exercise induced catabolic state of protein degradation, can go a long way in turning the tides the other direction and moving things past the balance point. It is amazing that any of us were able to grow when you really look at the damage we do to ourselves.

Another influential research project involved looking one step further and analyzing, directly, both protein degradation and protein anabolism, otherwise known as net protein balance [15]. It is a fact that resistive exercise will stimulate protein synthesis, but this is also accompanied by protein breakdown. A goal of supplementation should be to a) limit the extent of protein degradation, b) increase protein synthesis, and c) speed up recovery. What this data showed was that post workout supplementation is capable of doing this and the sooner we chug the better.

The researchers concluded that there is no difference in total protein breakdown in the four-hour post exercise period between 1-hour and 3-hour post workout supplementation groups. The major difference was the time it took to change from catabolism to anabolism. By two hours post exercise, the rate of protein catabolism was already decreasing when the supplement was taken 1-hour post exercise. In comparison, when taken 3-hours post exercise, the rate was still increasing. The less time in a catabolic state, the sooner the body can recover and start growing.

The take home message is that to make a quicker change, sooner is better. And, it should be noted that, even with a liquid meal, substrate availability takes 30-60 minutes. Therefore, using the information presented earlier on pre- and during- workout supplementation may be even better yet, especially if your diet is already somewhat lacking in total carbohydrates.

The Recipe For Anabolism!

The research is clear that we need a quick acting supplement of both carbohydrate and protein. It is relatively simple to create and the components are much less expensive than you think. According to the current research, this is what is needed to make your recovery faster than you ever thought possible. NOTE: An auto-calulator is below and it can do the math for you.
Carbohydrates: 0.8 - 1.0 g/kg of bodyweight

To make the best possible blend, it is recommended that the carbohydrates be a 50/50 blend of dextrose (glucose) and maltodextrin. The dextrose will be absorbed very quickly and be put to work. But why not make it all dextrose you ask? Because glucose is actively transported across the cellular membrane into the muscle [9], there is a limit to the amount that can cross at any given time. Overloading the system can lead to it being oxidized, meaning that not all of it may end up in the muscles. Instead, we include maltodextrin, which takes a fraction longer to reach the ambush cite, and we are better able to create anabolic fusion.
Protein: 0.4 - 0.6 g/kg of bodyweight

Which protein to use is a little more complicated. As in the case of carbohydrates, we want to use the fastest absorbing protein possible. Hydrolyzed whey protein is one of the most quickly absorbed due to an enzymatic production method that leaves the amino acids open for use. The only problem with the hydrolyzed proteins is their taste. If I can guess something that tastes similar, it probably is urinal cakes. Well, maybe not that bad, but you get my point.

There are two methods around this problem. You can either decrease the amount of hydrolyzed proteins by replacing this amount with whey isolates (another faster acting protein), or find a way to cover up the taste. You will have to see what will work best for you and your puke reflex. I personally use the first method. It works well, tastes good, and is a little more cost effective. A friend of mine forgets about the maltodextrin and adds this amount of powdered sports drinks to cover up the bitter taste of the hydrolyzed whey. Tastes good and seems to work well. In this case, you would definitely want to make sure you have the dextrose, maybe even a little extra.

Fructose, which is often used in these sports drink products, is ingested more slowly through facilitated transport, apparently has an ingestion limit somewhere around 60%, and usually shows signs of gastrointestinal distress at levels around 50 [16, 21]. Glucose, when ingested simultaneously with fructose, seems to accelerate the rate of fructose absorption and raises the level needed to cause the gastrointestinal distress [16, 21].

High Octane Kickers!

The above formula will work well by itself, but adding the following kickers can possibly knock your recovery and growth to another level.
5-10 grams of Branched Chain Amino Acids and Glutamine.

This includes 3-5 grams of BCAA and/or 3-5 grams of glutamine. All four of these amino acids are essential to muscular growth but their inclusion into this mixture goes beyond this. First, during exercise, they may be used to create energy by the working muscle cells thus increasing the body's need for them post-exercise. Secondly, BCAAs are not regulated by the liver and pass directly into circulation for quick use in muscle protein synthesis [9].

Lastly, added glutamine can result in many benefits that are all needed post exercise. Glutamine is essential in the transport of nitrogen, excretion of ammonia as the result of gluconeogenesis, and is used for energy by the immune system and intestinal cells [9]. Each of these systems is taxed as the result of strenuous activities so their inclusion may be beneficial.
3-5 grams of creatine monohydrate.

The benefits of this supplement are well documented and most if not all of you are familiar with its benefits and uses by now. The synergistic results of the other ingredients make this an ideal deliverer of creatine.

Recap Of The Recipe For Anabolism:

  • 0.8 - 1.0 g/kg of a 50/50 blend of dextrose and maltodextrin
  • 0.4 - 0.6 g/kg of hydrolyzed whey protein or a blend of this and a whey isolate (a minimum of 50% hydrolyzed whey)
  • 3-5 grams of BCAA
  • 3-5 grams of glutamine
  • 3-5 grams of creatine monohydrate.

* Drink ½ of this mixture pre (less than 15 minutes before exercise) and/or during your workout. Because of decreased gastric emptying during moderate to high intensity exercise, it has been hypothesized that during exercise supplements should be kept to a solution of 10% concentration or less (Anataraman et al. 1995). This means that a during exercise supplement will need to be mixed in 1-2 liters of water. That is a lot of fluid to drink during a 45-60 minute workout. If it is a little more concentrated, the results will probably not be affected much, so you need to see what is going to work for you.


All of these ingredients are readily available very inexpensively from many supplement suppliers. The only work you have to put in is using the scoops provided and dumping from 2-3 containers into your shaker cup. You can easily save about 50-80% off the cost of many supplements out there marketed for this type of situation. You do not have to be exact on your measurements either. All you need is to be at least in the recommended range or possibly a little over.

Remember that many of the supplement companies want you to be amazed by the ingredients they put in. See how many of them put glucose on the label instead of dextrose. Dextrose is corn sugar and almost every natural foods store, as well as beer homebrew shops, will have it and maltodextrin on their shelves. You will be surprised at how much you pay for the containers and marketing. The following is a list of what you should expect to pay, at MOST, for the main ingredients:

All of us put in a ton of work in gym torturing our bodies with insane workouts, why not take care of ourselves and grow? Save a little money when you can and extend your dollar a little further.

This article appears courtesy of


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