Post work out nutrition is tricky. With so many nutritional philosophies flooding the fitness industry and shaky research backing the idea of post work out nutrition optimization, it is hard to separate fact from fiction. Some enthusiasts favor protein and carbohydrates post work out, while others prefer protein alone. Some swear by whey protein, while others opt for a delicate blend of whey and casein. But what is ideal? At the end of the day, there are several points to consider.
To maximize recovery from post work out nutrition, one must consider the human body’s many physiological responses to exercise. In the following paragraphs, I will examine the effects of resistance training on muscle mass and body composition.
Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is the process by which new proteins are made for muscle repair and growth. MPS peaks anywhere from 1-3 hours post workout, creating an opportunistic “window” for recovery (Poliquin, 2011). Further, research indicates that MPS remains elevated for up to 24 hours. Knowing this, one must supplement and eat to augment MPS both immediately post workout and around the clock- the more MPS the better.
Acute MPS is a highly complex and often misunderstood process. To simplify matters, MPS requires a stimulus for activation AND nutrients for repair and growth. Resistance training begins the process through which new muscle mass is formed. Resistance training causes the release of the anabolic hormones (testosterone, etc.) responsible for stimulating acute MPS. Post workout protein and carbohydrate consumption further enhances the body’s anabolic hormonal response (insulin, etc.) and provides muscle cells with adequate nutrients to grow (hence, the importance of the post workout “window”). Consumed protein is broken down into amino acids, and amino acids form together like building blocks to create new muscle mass (Baechle & Earle, 2008).
As a result of human physiology, exercise recovery and growth reads, net protein balance = muscle protein synthesis – protein degradation (Brown, 2007). Over time, a positive net protein balance will result in an increase in lean mass, while a negative net protein balance will mark a decrease in lean muscle mass. Through resistance training and adequate nutrient availability, one will prompt more MPS than degradation and generate a chronic positive net protein balance. Together, and combined with other anabolic factors like sleep, these growth constituents foster an environment suitable for optimal body composition.
The following nutritional recommendations are based upon human physiology, proven research, and successful field application. Each varies from goal to goal and from body type to body type. Pick the approach that best suits your needs and enjoy!
Post Workout Nutritional Approaches
1. Consume 0.3- 0.5 g/ kg bodyweight of a high quality, fast digesting whey protein isolate or hydrolysate 15-30 AND 120-150 minutes post exercise. Supplement with 3-5g creatine monohydrate with your first post workout shake. If strength and muscular hypertrophy are your primary goals, add 0.8-1.5g/ kg bodyweight simple carbohydrates (dextrose, maltodextrin) to your first post workout shake based on your training volume. Higher volumes require a carbohydrate intake near the high end, while lower training volumes necessitate an intake closer to the lower end.
Note: This approach is great for those allergic and/or sensitive to lactose since whey protein isolates and hydrolysates are lactose free. If body fat reduction is your primary fitness goal, then either eliminate post workout carbohydrates, or consume carbohydrates and protein in a 1:1 ratio at 0.5g/ kg bodyweight.
2. Combine a simple carbohydrate (dextrose or maltodextrin) with a high quality protein in a 4:1 mixture and consume 15-30 minutes post workout. Use an 80% casein/ 20% whey blend. Chocolate milk is a prime example of this type of drink. Supplement with 3-5g creatine monohydrate and continue with regularly timed, high protein meals thereafter.
Note: This approach is ideal for those that can tolerate lactose and cannot afford expensive powders. Both chocolate milk and creatine are cheap and effective for exercise recovery. If finances are not an issue and/or you wish to reduce body fat, either eliminate or reduce the carbohydrate to protein ratio to 1:1. Lastly, make sure to ingest 0.3- 0.5 g/ kg bodyweight protein.
3. Consume between 10-20g essential amino acids (EAA’s) and 5-10g leucine immediately after your workout. If strength and muscular hypertrophy are your primary goals, add 0.8-1.5g/ kg bodyweight simple carbohydrates (dextrose, maltodextrin) to your shake based on your training volume. Eat a meal containing 0.3- 0.5 g/ kg bodyweight protein and little fat 60-90 minutes after you have finished your shake.
Note: Most essential amino acid formulas digest very quickly. A high protein meal 60-90 minutes post workout is crucial for maintaining MPS and stimulating further recovery. If body fat reduction is your primary fitness goal, then either eliminate post workout carbohydrates, or consume carbohydrates and protein in a 1:1 ratio at 0.5g/ kg bodyweight.
Avoid fats immediately post workout. Fats slow digestion and thwart your body’s ability to benefit from the “anabolic window”.
Muscle protein synthesis levels are elevated for up to 24 hours post workout. For this reason, consuming a diet high in protein caters to an increase in lean mass. Nowadays, many address the “anabolic window” and forget about MPS thereafter. Bank on the fact that your recovery window is open for longer than three hours and ingest protein at every meal.
High quality protein powders digest more quickly than food. To maximize recovery from the “anabolic window”, supplement with fast digesting proteins like EAA’s, whey protein hydrolysates, and whey protein isolates. Regular eating will suffice for elevated MPS levels thereafter.
Ingest 10-15g essential amino acids pre-workout to reduce protein breakdown and heighten MPS.
Take 0.2-0.5g / kg lean body mass of BCAA’s during your workout to minimize muscle protein breakdown, to maximize growth, and to enhance recovery.
The branch chain amino acid Leucine plays a huge role in triggering MPS. Supplement with 3-10 grams post workout to increase recovery.
Baechle, T. R., Earle, R. W. (2008). Essentials of strength and conditioning (3rd ED). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Brown, L. E. (2007). Strength training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Poliquin, C. (2011). Ask Coach Poliquin: The best Q&A columns from over two decades. New York, NY: Poliquin Performance Center, LLC.