If you ask most bodybuilders to write down their daily diet and supplement regimen you will most likely get a detailed account of when every gram of protein is eaten and when every supplement is taken. Most serious lifters are meticulous about precisely timing every nutrient to make sure that their body will not have to go a second without the nutrients it needs. Some even wake up in the middle of the night to have a protein shake.
However, most bodybuilders tend to ignore the most important times to take in protein, which are before, during, and after a workout. Not only are these the best times to take in protein, but these are also the ideal times to take in many of the other vital nutrients and supplements that your body requires to build muscle.
During training, your body is primed to soak up anything that is in your bloodstream like a sponge. When certain nutrients are taken at specific times they can have an amazing impact on hormone levels. For a natural bodybuilder, precisely timing workout nutrition will help build more muscle and cut more fat than you ever thought possible.
The best method to ingest workout nutrition is to do it in three different protein shake mixtures. One about ten minutes before training, the second sipped on during training, and the third consumed immediately after training. Nearly every time one of my clients or I train, someone asks “Dude, what’s in those shakes you’re always drinking?” I know that they are hoping I will tell them about a secret new supplement that adds 20lbs. of muscle in a month.
I love to watch disappointed looks wash over their faces as I explain to them exactly what is in each shake. They don’t realize the effects that these “super shakes” can have on muscle growth, and I do not wish launch into an overly wordy lecture in the middle of my workout to convince them how important these shakes are. Here is what you will want to put into your workout shakes.
This is the first ingredient you will want to put into your shakes. I know that many of you are already panicking because I did not list protein as the #1 ingredient. Don’t worry… Protein will be included, but I want to emphasize that the carbs in these shakes are every bit as important as the protein.
To understand the importance of the carbs in these shakes, you must first know how your body uses different forms of energy during a set. To lift a weight your body first requires energy. Adenosine Triphosphate, or ATP, is the only source of energy that can drive your muscles to contract. Unfortunately, your muscle only stores enough ATP to support muscle contraction for a few seconds, therefore it must be replaced.
If it is not replaced muscle contraction will stop, meaning your set is over. Luckily your body replaces your ATP stores by breaking down creatine phosphate (CP). This releases energy for fast replenishment of ATP. Your muscle stores enough CP for about 8-12 seconds of maximal effort. When CP stores run out our body switches to glycolysis.
This is when your body uses stored glycogen (carbohydrate stored within the muscle) and blood sugar to replace ATP stores. Your body repeats this process for every single set that you perform in the gym. Carbs come into play during glycolysis. In between sets, muscle cells use the glycolytic pathway to restore ATP. You can preserve muscle glycogen and stay strong throughout your workout by having carbs before and during your training.
How much of a difference can this make, you ask? Well, you can prevent muscle glycogen decline by 50%. You may be wondering, “How does this help me get big? “ Preventing glycogen decline allows you to train with maximum intensity throughout your entire workout. In other words you don’t tire as your workout progresses, your weights go up, and you get a better pump.
Carbohydrates are sounding better and better by the minute. Carbs are also useful post workout for this very same reason. If you can restock your glycogen levels immediately after your workout you are setting yourself up for a better workout tomorrow. This is especially important when on a calorie restricted diet.
Besides giving you energy to keep intensity at a high level during your training, carbohydrates also affect your hormones, most notably, insulin. People who tout low carb diets are quick to tell you about the evils of insulin. Granted, chronically high insulin levels can lead to decreased fatty acid breakdown and, of course, fat gain. You simply need to know how and when to raise your insulin levels to use it to your advantage.
Insulin increases protein synthesis and muscle building, which we know are very good things. One way it does this is by increasing transportation of amino acids from your blood stream to your muscles. Your body is in a very unique state during and immediately after resistance exercise. Immediately after a heavy set, blood flow to working muscles can increase by up to 15-20 times normal levels. So, increasing insulin levels will immediately shuttle any nutrients that are in your blood stream to the muscle being worked. Lastly, insulin will keep cortisol levels lower.
Insulin and cortisol have opposite effects on your body. Insulin is a storing hormone; cortisol is a hormone that breaks down muscle tissue. Not good. Since cortisol and insulin are opposing hormones, when one is high the other is kept at lower levels. This is how you can consume high levels of carbs everyday without gaining any fat.
Most of my clients gasp when I tell them how many carbs will be in their diet. They always think they will get fat. In fact, many of my clients can take in nearly as many carbs during contest dieting as they had during their offseason simply, by moving the majority of daily carbs to their workout shakes.
The question becomes which type of carbohydrate should you have to enhance these effects. You’ll want carbs that are high on the glycemic index since these will spike blood sugar quickly, therefore, spiking insulin levels. The best kinds are dextrose and maltodextrin. The amount of carbs that you add to your shakes varies greatly depending on goals and individual body type. Between 20-60 grams per shake would be a good place to start.
The next ingredient is, of course, protein. Protein should be added to these shakes since amino acids are the building blocks of muscle. Protein is made up of different amino acids. As previously discussed, insulin increases amino acid transport and absorption to working muscles. It makes sense that this cannot happen if there are no amino acids in your blood stream to store when insulin is being released. This is why you will want protein in your shakes before and during training.
Protein becomes especially important after your workout. After training your muscles are in a catabolic state, which means muscle is being broken down. Your main goal is to switch from a catabolic state to an anabolic state, which means muscle is being built. The period immediately after training is commonly called the anabolic window. This is because after training your muscles are very sensitive to nutrients for approximately 2 hours.
When a protein/carb mixture is taken immediately after training protein synthesis can increase up to 300 percent. If you wait until 3 hours after your workout to drink the same protein/carb mixture, protein synthesis will only increase 12 percent. YIKES! That shows you how crucial timing is in your diet. You will build 25 times more muscle if you have your shake immediately after a workout as opposed to 3 hours later.
Since timing is so important, we want a form of protein that digests rapidly, just like we wanted a quick digesting carbohydrate. Whey protein works best since it gets to your blood stream faster than any other protein. As with carbs, the amount of protein that you add to each shake will vary depending on many factors. Start within a range of 15-30 grams.
Creatine Monohydrate may be the most popular bodybuilding supplement on the market. We already discussed how creatine phosphate is broken down during training and used for immediate energy. Supplementing with creatine will ensure that creatine levels will remain high. This will allow you to lift heavier weight for more reps. Of course; this is a good thing and can lead to significant growth over time.
Since the high glycemic carbs within the shakes will raise insulin levels, the creatine in your bloodstream will be transported into your muscle tissue along with the amino acids that you have ingested. Therefore, the effects of creatine become enhanced when added to a protein/carb mixture. By adding creatine to your workout shakes, instead of taking it at other times during the day, you will get the best bang for your buck.
There are many forms of creatine on the market but creatine monohydrate is not only the most cost effective but it has also been proven to be more effective than other form of creatine. Start with 5-10 grams of creatine monohydrate in both your pre-training and post-training shakes.
Glutamine has been a staple in bodybuilder's supplement arsenals for years, and for good reason. Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body comprising about 50% of the free amino acids in the blood and muscle. Glutamine is considered a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning your body can create its own glutamine from other amino acids. However, during times of stress, such as training, your body cannot create adequate amounts and additional glutamine may need to be supplied through diet.
There are two main functions for glutamine within the body. The first function is to serve as a precursor in the synthesis of other amino acids, and the second is to be converted to glucose for energy. During training it is important to consume glutamine because it will slow muscle catabolism by preventing the breakdown of your body’s intramuscular stores of glutamine and BCAA’s.
Glutamine will also positively affect hormone levels during and after training. When added to a protein/carb mixture, glutamine will elicit a greater insulin response than with protein and carbs alone. This will help restock glycogen levels both within muscle tissue and in the liver.
As stated earlier, restocking glycogen levels post workout will help fuel an intense workout tomorrow. In addition to increasing insulin levels, glutamine also increases growth hormone levels when added to workout shakes. Some studies have even shown that glutamine may be able to up-regulate other anabolic hormones. The effective dosage for glutamine is between 2-5 grams added to each of your three workout shakes. Start with the lower dosage and slowly work your way up.
Branched Chain Amino Acids - BCAAs
The last on the list, but perhaps the most important ingredient to add to your shakes is Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s). The three BCAA’s are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. It has long been known that supplementing with BCAA’s helps to mitigate muscle tissue breakdown during exercise. This is because unlike other amino acids, BCAA’s are metabolized in the muscle tissue rather than the liver and during exercise they are broken down and metabolized for quick energy.
Newer research is now showing that taking BCAA’s before, during, and after training can have a profound effect on your hormones as well. In a recent study, it was shown that when athletes were given BCAA’s prior to training, post workout testosterone levels remained elevated for several hours, whereas the control group noticed a significant drop in testosterone once training ceased.
The same study also noted that the BCAA group had higher insulin levels than the placebo group, and by now it should be clear how important insulin is during training. BCAA’s also appear to keep cortisol levels lower when taken during exercise, which further prevents muscle tissue breakdown.
It has also been shown that when combined with a calorie restricted diet, BCAA’s have the ability to reduce abdominal fat more than calorie restriction alone. Since BCAA’s have the unique ability to boost muscle building hormones and cut fat this make them ideal when preparing for a competition or just trying to lose a little body fat.
Additionally, some of the most exciting discoveries about BCAA’s, and in particular the amino acid leucine, have only come about within the last couple of years. Amino acids have long been known to be substrates for protein synthesis, but more recent studies suggest certain amino acids can actually influence gene expression. Leucine has been shown to directly increase protein synthesis through the mTOR pathway.
The mTOR is located within the cells and is responsible for detecting an excess of amino acids. Though this process is not entirely understood, mTOR pathway has been discovered to be extremely sensitive to the amino acid leucine. Recent tests have shown that when leucine is taken orally it interacts with the mechanism of mTOR, protein synthesis increases, and cell growth occurs. This is really exciting as leucine may be able to; in essence, flip on your muscle building switch.
Although this is fairly new research, leucine may prove to be one of the most powerful muscle building tools bodybuilders have at their disposal. Overall, BCAA’s and leucine will positively affect athletic performance, increase protein metabolism, and will decrease body fat. The recommended dosage for BCAA’s is between 2-5 grams added to each of your three workout shakes. Once again, start at the lower end and work your way up.
There you have it, no secret supplements or magic potions. These five ingredients, when taken together and timed correctly, will have a synergistic effect on muscle growth. Whether you are a competitive bodybuilder or a weight lifter who wishes to gain as much muscle as possible, adding proper workout nutrition to your training will be the key to push your muscle gains to the next level.
Most will settle to just have a protein shake after they finish training. If you truly desire to build a physique that stands out, you can and must do better. So train hard, keep the shakes coming in, and try not to laugh when you see someone drinking only whey protein after their workout.
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