The workout chalk has settled and another intense workout has been logged.
It’s now time to go home and grow. But not so fast! One crucial job remains.
Devoted lifters like yourself must realize that muscle gains are determined largely by what is done immediately post training.
And of all the steps needed to commence the growth process, post-workout nutrition tops the list.
Fueling up for a killer session and maintaining an anabolic environment has given you a decided edge over others. But there is one final step.
Indeed, the targeted intake of post training nutrients will not only prepare you for the next meeting with the iron. It’ll also help to supercharge muscle growth in the aftermath of another hard workout.
Why post-workout nutrition?
Post-workout nutrition is a crucial part of any solid mass building plan. Without it, an opportunity to grow is missed and muscle gains are made all the more difficult.
The primary purposes of post workout nutrition are to replenish glycogen, offset protein degradation, and enhance protein synthesis. Post-workout nutrition also helps to ensure that muscle soreness is decreased, body fat plummets to single-digits, muscle recovery is improved, and immune function is bolstered.
What hard training lifter wouldn’t want that? The post-workout period is often viewed as the most critical part of nutrient timing. By achieving a beneficial balance of key nutrients post-workout, not only is the rebuilding of damaged tissue and restoration of energy reserves initiated, but they are done so in a super compensated fashion that improves both body composition and exercise performance.4
Muscle growth can only occur when damaged muscle proteins are repaired via protein synthesis. But there is one problem. Protein breakdown continues to increase post-workout and protein synthesis struggles to keep pace. By suppressing the former and increasing the latter, muscle growth can proceed uninterrupted.
All of which brings us to the main reason most lifters do not experience exponential growth: an inability to properly balance the rate of protein synthesis with the rate of protein degradation. The neglecting of workout nutrition plays a big role in this. By further establishing a positive protein balance post workout, protein turnover is substantially improved and muscle hypertrophy is fully engaged.
It’s also essential that stored glycogen is replenished. If not, protein may be leeched from muscles to provide energy for subsequent activities. The proper storage of carbs via post-workout nutrition is also needed to fuel the next big workout.
When to replenish
While the post-workout period is an ideal time for the muscles to soak up growth enhancing and energy replacement nutrients, these important processes can only be engaged to the fullest when insulin is freely flowing and muscle cells are made sensitive to increased insulin levels.
Even with the delivery of post-workout nutrients to the muscles through increased insulin levels, insulin receptors are still less sensitive to the uptake of these nutrients post-workout. During this phase, catabolic hormones remain elevated, protein degradation outpaces protein synthesis, fat oxidation is low and glycogen stores are running on empty.
Something must be done, and fast! While that post-workout meal should replenish and build, its nutrients (barred entry to muscle cells due to poor insulin receptor sensitivity) may instead be forced to find a new home. Potentially valuable nutrients are thus stored as glycogen or, worst case scenario, fat.
So, what can be done to fix this problem? It’s simple. It comes back to post-workout nutrition. What is consumed immediately following a workout can make all the difference.
Post-workout is also prime time for muscle building progress due in large part to increased blood flow to skeletal muscle. To take advantage of this greater blood supply, the right nutrients must be available. These nutrients can then be delivered to the muscles to maximize protein synthesis and glycogen storage.4, 7
Once the right conditions are in place, the muscles are considered to be metabolically primed for nutrient uptake. The best time to begin post-workout replenishment is immediately following training. The longer it takes to address post-workout nutrition, the less likelihood there is of fully recovering from an arduous session4 due to the fact that protein synthesis and glycogen replenishment are less likely to be fully addressed at such times.7
Post-workout keys to victory
It seems every trainee has a unique take on what and when to take post-workout. Unfortunately, many have become reliant upon a protein shake right after training and a whole foods meal combining protein and carbs an hour or so later.7
While both of these practices are sound, they do not provide the complete recovery picture.
Granted, while a whole foods meal within an hour of training remains an important part of the muscle growth equation, the period immediately following the workout is when the real magic happens. This meal should mostly be made up of quality proteins and carbs, and extremely low in fats.
Aside from slowing gastric emptying,15 thereby lessening the absorption rate of proteins, carbs and various anabolic compounds, fats are considered problematic post workout due to their impact on growth hormone (GH) reduction.14 It is for these reasons that five grams of fat, or less, be consumed post-workout.
The superior method for supplying post workout nutrients to hungry muscles is the post workout shake. Liquid meals are both palatable and easily digestible. Whereas whole foods take longer to consume, are much slower to digest, and are often poorly absorbed, the shake supplies a more precise array of beneficial ingredients to target muscle growth and recovery.
At the most basic level, a good whey protein formula, amino acids, and a superior carbohydrate supplement will do the job nicely.11
For ease of absorption and maximum results, however, a high potency BCAA and whey isolate product combined with a serving of several high molecular weight carbs will more fully engage the post-workout growth process. To truly maximize the post-workout period, three additional compounds can also be downed: Creatine, Beta-Alanine, and L-Carnitine L-Tartrate.
Muscle creatine levels are rapidly depleted and typically take longer than other nutrients to be restored.8 To ensure that enough of this important muscle building compound is available, creatine can be supplemented post-workout.
Creatine increases muscle stores of the high energy molecule creatine phosphate which in turn feeds the ATP-CP (Adenosine Triphosphate-Creatine Phosphate) system to increase energy for high intensity activities such as weight training.3 Creatine also creates significant muscular swelling by drawing water into muscle cells. Such swelling is extremely anabolic, as it enhances muscle protein synthesis and promotes muscle growth.
In addition, with elevated post workout insulin levels and increased muscle sensitivity to insulin, creatine can be stored at a much faster rate. It has also been found that by taking creatine with food, more creatine can be shuttled into muscle tissue.3
A study by Antonio et al.1 measured the effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength.
The researchers’ findings, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, confirmed that creatine “promotes increases in total intramuscular creatine, phosphocreatine, skeletal muscle mass, lean body mass and muscle fiber size” along with muscle strength and power.
This study concluded that “Creatine supplementation plus resistance exercise increases fat free mass and strength.” According to this study, “it appears that consuming creatine immediately post-workout may be superior to pre-workout,” when seeking to improve body composition and strength.
Training volume largely determines the post-workout growth response. In fact, high volume combined with a high intensity output is a muscle building mandatory crucial for impressive results.
While creatine shines as an important way to increase power output, Beta-Alanine, has proven to be a fatigue-fighter which can significantly increase resistance training endurance.16
The ability to work harder is a major key to effective muscle building and fat loss. A few extra reps on a hard set can make all the difference to how a muscle is forced to adapt. Made from the amino acid histidine and the non-proteinaceous amino Beta-Alanine, carnosine is an effective muscle acid buffer shown to significantly extend workout intensity and diminish perceived rate of physical exertion.2, 5, 16
With sufficient carnosine on board, those extra growth inducing reps can be achieved and the dreaded pain barrier may no longer be a limiting factor. The training game is equal parts mental and physical. Aside from its acid buffering properties, carnosine also acts as a neurotransmitter to increase mental alertness and focus.5,6
The best way to saturate the muscles with carnosine is to supplement with a high quality Beta-Alanine product.
Of the two prime periods for beta-alanine consumption, post-workout appears to possibly be more beneficial to its uptake and storage. It is during this phase that insulin levels are high and increased insulin receptor activity can enhance the synthesis of all nutrients taken at this time.
In studying the best times for Beta-Alanine intake, Stegen et al.9 found that Beta-Alanine is more effective when taken with other nutrients than when consumed between meals.
In a key conclusion, the researchers found that “the efficiency of carnosine loading is significantly higher when PBA (Pure Beta-Alanine) is coingested with a meal (+64%) compared with in between the meals (+41%), suggesting that insulin stimulates muscle carnosine loading.”
Research also shows that beta-alanine works synergistically with creatine to optimize the effects of each ingredient.
In one study, 10 weight-trained athletes consumed 3.2 g of beta-alanine plus 10 g of creatine monohydrate daily for 12 weeks. Each Creatine/Beta-Alanine athlete gained more muscle mass while losing a larger amount of body fat compared those who ingested 10 grams of creatine alone and the placebo group's subjects.
Post-workout L-Carnitine L-Tartrate
L-Carnitine L-Tartrate is more than just a potent fat-burner. Studies suggest that the androgen receptor (AR) signaling pathway initiates lean muscle mass increases, muscle strength, and muscle protein synthesis by binding with testosterone post-workout.12
The perfect time to upregulate androgen receptor content is following resistance training, with the aid of L-Carnitine L-Tartrate. L-Carnitine L-Tartrate supplementation is thought to increase testosterone production and recovery following intense training.13 L-Carnitine L-Tartrate has also been shown to lower free radical production, reduce tissue damage, and negate muscle soreness post-workout.17
As a whole, workout nutrition is vastly important for post-workout growth and refueling. The intake of nutrients following a tough workout enhances muscle building by providing the raw materials needed to recover and grow.
Because intensive training increases insulin sensitivity, muscle cells are primed for optimum nutrient intake post workout. Insulin receptors, immediately post-workout, demand muscle building nutrients.
To hydrate the muscles, top them with glycogen, and enhance muscle protein synthesis in the aftermath of each workout, post workout nutrients should be consumed without delay.
Without proper post workout nutrition, the period immediately following each workout will continue to deliver its catabolic consequences. An anabolic response will be much harder to achieve without the rapid delivery of carbs, aminos, Creatine, Beta Alanine and L-Carnitine L-Tartrate and muscle may begin to diminish.
Brushing off post-workout nutrition stifles muscle growth. So do not fall victim to this commonly made error. Properly address post-workout replenishment and wasted workouts will become a thing of the past.
- Antonio, J., et al. The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Aug 6; 10:36.
- Artioli, G. G., et al. Role of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine and exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010. Jun; 42(6):1162-73.
- Buford, T., et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2007 4:6 DOI: 10.1186/1550-2783-4-6
- Aragon, A., & Shoenfeld, B. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013; 10: 5.
- Culbertson, J. Y., et al. Effects of beta-alanine on muscle carnosine an exercise performance: A review of the current literature. Nutrients. 2010. 2 75-98
- Derave, W., et al. beta-Alanine supplementation augments muscle carnosine content and attenuates fatigue during repeated isokinetic contraction bouts in trained sprinters. J. Appl. Physiol. 2007. 103:1736-43
- Roy et al. Influence of differing macronutrient intakes on muscle glycogen resynthesis after resistance exercise. JAP. 1998. 84(3): 890-896.
- Cooper, R., et al. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012; 9: 33.
- Stegen, S., et al. Meal and beta-alanine coingestion enhances muscle carnosine loading. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Aug; 45(8):1478-85.
- Hoffman et al. Effect of creatine and beta-alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Aug; 16(4):430-46.
- Van Loon et al. Maximizing postexercise muscle glycogen synthesis: carbohydrate supplementation and the application of amino acid or protein hydrolysate mixtures. Am J Clin Nutrition. 2000. 72(1): 106-111.
- Inoue, K., et al. Androgen receptor antagonist suppresses exercise-induced hypertrophy of skeletal muscle. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 69(1): 88-91, 1994.
- Ratamess, N.A., et al. Androgen receptor content following heavy resistance exercise in men. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol 93(1): 35-42, 2005.
- Cappon, J., P. et al., Acute effects of high fat and high glucose meals on the growth hormone response to exercise. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1993 Jun;76(6):1418-22
- Gentilcore, D., et al. Effects of fat on gastric emptying of and the glycemic, insulin, and incretin responses to a carbohydrate meal in type 2 diabetes. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2006 Jun;91(6):2062-7
- Culbertson, J., et al. Effects of Beta-Alanine on Muscle Carnosine and Exercise Performance: A Review of the Current Literature. Nutrients. 2010 Jan; 2(1): 75–98.
- D’Antona, G., et al. Creatine, L-Carnitine, and ω3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Supplementation from Healthy to Diseased Skeletal Muscle. Biomed Res Int. 2014; 2014: 613890.