You don’t build muscle in the gym. In fact, you do the opposite. It’s what you feed your body after you walk out of the gym that determines whether or not you’ll put on any mass!
That’ why post workout nutrition is such an important topic.
It’s also an extremely confusing one.
The big money guys in the industry have purposefully made the subject overly complicated in order to get you to buy more of their products!
But you don’t have to fall into their trap.
In this article, you’ll discover exactly what needs to go into your mouth after tour workout in order to recover faster, get leaner and build more muscle.
What Happens When You Work Out?
- 1 What Happens When You Work Out?
- 2 Focus On Growth And Recovery
- 3 Amino Acids For Muscle
- 4 What About Supplements?
- 5 Up Close With Carbs And Protein
- 6 Fats
- 7 When Should You Eat Your Workout Meal?
- 8 Recap
When you work out in the gym your body relies mainly on glycogen to do the work. As a result, when you walk out of the gym, your body’s glycogen stores are all pretty well all used up. The body also uses up some of its muscle protein during intense resistance exercise.
The body is designed to maintain balance so it will immediately set about trying to replace the lost glycogen and protein. Your workout also places stress upon your muscle fibers. In fact, that stress causes tiny tears to occur in those fibers. In the hours after your training, your body will work to repair those tears. The nutrient that it needs to do that job is protein.
The way to provide your body with the nutrients that it needs to do this vital post workout job is to give it proteins and carbohydrates. Here’s what the right proteins and carbs at the right time will do . . .
- Decrease muscle protein breakdown
- Enhance muscle growth
- Restore glycogen levels depleted by exercise
- Boost your recovery
Focus On Growth And Recovery
If you are wanting to make sustained progress in your workouts, then you need to recover between your sets and between your workouts. Part of your post workout goal, then, must be to fully recover from the stress of your workout and prepare for the next one. The faster your body is able to recover from your training, the faster it is able to adapt by adding new muscle tissue.
If you don’t recover fully between workouts, a cumulative effect will accumulate that can put you into a chronically over trained state. One result of this may be muscle loss – the exact opposite to what you are trying to achieve!
Try working out when you’re over trained and you’ll inevitably find yourself dragging yourself from exercise to exercise. You’ll hardly be able to get through your session, let alone put in the intensity that is required to drive muscle growth and fat loss.
You post workout meal is a critical component of your post workout recovery.
You will only ever grow muscle if your rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than your muscle protein breakdown. When you are in this state you are said to be in positive muscle protein balance. This is also known as an anabolic state. When you work out in the gym you will be improving your muscle protein balance. However, in the absence of smart post workout nutrition, you will remain in a negative muscle protein state. This is also known as a catabolic state.
The key ingredient within protein which is the driver of the muscle building process is nitrogen. Protein contains nitrogen. Carbs and fats do not. Without nitrogen you will not be able to replace your body’s cells. Being in a state of positive nitrogen balance, then, is the precursor to muscle growth.
To achieve a state of positive nitrogen balance, we need to be taking in more nitrogen than we are using up.
You’ve probably heard that proteins are the body’s building blocks. Well, the building blocks of protein are amino acids. There are 20 basic amino acids that can be reformulated in a myriad of different ways in order to create hundreds of types of proteins. Eleven of the amino acids can be produced by the human body. These are called non-essential amino acids. We do not have to get these amino acids from the foods that we eat.
That leaves 9 amino acids that are known as the essential amino acids. Because the body cannot manufacture them, these amino acids must be provided by the foods and supplements that we eat.
The 9 essential amino acids are:
Of the essential amino acids, three have been shown to be especially beneficial for post workout recovery. These are leucine, valine and isoleucine, which are collectively known as the branch chain amino acids.
Amino Acids For Muscle
When you work out, you place stress upon your muscles, which causes micro tears in the tissue. The body is able to repair and rebuild the cell, actually making it bigger and stronger than it was before. But it can only do so with amino acids, which are the building blocks of the body.
That is why your body craves amino acids immediately after your workout. With them you will be able to push yourself into an anabolic, muscle building state. Without them, you will remain in a catabolic, muscle wasting state.
Amino Acids Before Your Workout
When you supplement with BCAA’s before your workout, you will be promoting muscle endurance and blunting fatigue. That’s because the BCAA’s, in contrast to other amino acids, are able to go directly into the muscle cell to be used as an energy source. This effect is enhanced when you are doing intense exercise like weight training.
Amino Acids During Your Workout
Taking a branch chain amino acid supplement during your workout will allow you to fast track these vital nutrients to your muscles cells while they are under stress and breaking down. Your body will be getting those amino acids precisely when it needs them.
As your workout drags on and BCAA levels get depleted in the body, tryptophan levels increase, which causes an increase in serotonin levels. This makes you feel tired, with the result that your strength and endurance are lowered.
The BCAA valine competes with tryptophan for entry into the brain, and normally overpowers it. As a result, less tryptophan is available to be converted to serotonin. This allows your muscles to contract with more force for longer. That is why supplementing with BCAAs is the key to maintaining your strength, power and training endurance.
Amino Acids After Your Workout
Leucine is the primary amino acid involved in protein synthesis. As a result, it is often referred to as the anabolic trigger, turning on protein synthesis. This is vital after your workout when your body is in a catabolic state.
Leucine is also the post workout amino acid of choice due to its ability to spike insulin levels. Leucine causes the pancreas to release more insulin. This helps to drive the aminos into the muscle cell where it stimulates muscle growth. Insulin, itself, also decreases the breakdown of muscle tissue and encourages greater muscle protein synthesis.
That is why you should take a BCAA supplement post workout that has a higher ratio of leucine. Look for a BCAA supplement that has a leucine:valine:iso-leucine ratio of 4:1:1
BCAA’s also work to blunt the catabolic effects of cortisol, which is heightened during the stress of training. Among other things, cortisol lowers your levels of testosterone, interfering with your body’s ability to drive new muscle growth. BCAA’s will bring your cortisol levels back down, allowing for the muscle building mechanism to kick in.
A number of studies have shown that BCAA supplementation reduced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after exercise. Scientists believe that this is because supplementation with BCAA’s allows for a steady stream of muscle enhancing amino acids to saturate the bloodstream.
Amino Acids And Libido
The amino acid arginine has been proven to be an effective booster of male sexual performance. Arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide, which has the effect of relaxing the walls of our blood vessels. This, in turn, improves the circulation of blood throughout the body, including to the penis. This can dramatically improve erectile function.
With every passing decade beyond our twenties, we lose a few percent of our body’s testosterone levels. This makes us lose muscle and strength as we age. Amino Acids are the counter to that natural process. Ensuring that we get a plentiful supply will allow us to retain our hard won muscle and to stay strong as we age.
What’s The Ideal Amino Acid Intake?
To maximize your training performance and recovery, you should . . .
- Take 5-10 grams of BCAAs 30 minutes BEFORE your workout
- Sip from a water bottle fortified with 5 grams of BCAAs DURING the workout
- Take 5-10 grams of BCAAs AFTER the workout with a ratio of 4:1:1 in favor of leucine.
What About Supplements?
Creatine is made up of the three amino acids arginine, glycerine and methionine. This makes it an amino acid supplement, rather than an individual amino acid. It will boost creatine phosphate levels, which boosts ATP levels, delivering more training power and endurance.
Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid and is, in fact, the most abundant amino acid in your body. Its job is to transport nitrogen around the body. Nitrogen is essential to the muscle building process, which makes glutamine a very important amino acid if you want to pack on lean muscle mass.
Without glutamine you will not be in a state of positive nitrogen balance. Resistance training causes you to lose quite a lot of glutamine. The harder you train, the more glutamine you’ll be using up. As a result, when you walk out the gym door you’ll be in a glycogen depleted state.
Taking a post workout shake that is supplemented with glutamine will ensure that you return to a state of positive nitrogen balance and are in an anabolic muscle building state.
Beta alanine is a compound that is made by the body. It is a compound that stimulates the production of carnosine. The more carnosine you have in your system, the harder you will be able to train.
Intense resistance training increases the body’s production of hydrogen ions. If you are trying to build muscle, then these ions are definitely your enemy. They reduce the levels of pH in the cell. This causes your muscle to fatigue more quickly. This makes beta alanine a great supplement to help with post workout muscle recovery.
Vitargo is a patented complex carb that has become a popular ingredient in intra workout formulas. The molecules that comprise Vitargo are much heavier than in most carbs, but it has a very low osmolality. This means that is can pass through the stomach about 80% faster than dextrose. This makes it a great post workout choice.
Electrolytes are tiny chemicals that have an electric charge that stimulate certain bodily actions. Such electrolytes as magnesium and potassium are used to assist hydration. They will assist in keeping you hydrated during the workout, and so are useful additions to your intra workout formula.
Up Close With Carbs And Protein
With carbs and protein being the key nutrients for post workout recovery, it’s important that we drill down on these two macros. We’ll also discuss the value of adding certain key fats to your post workout meal.
When you work out, your body breaks down muscle protein. The degree to which this happens will depend upon the intensity of your training. When you consume protein after your workout you supply amino acids which are able to repair broken tissue and build new muscle.
Your body can only store small amounts of glycogen in muscle cells. Working out will use up most of it. But the rate at which you deplete glycogen levels depends on the type of exercise you do. Endurance sports will use up more glycogen than resistance exercise. That’s why a runner will need to consume more carbs post workout than a bodybuilder does.
The recommendation is to take in 0.5 to 0.7 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight as part of a post workout meal. Research also shows that it is important to take in carbs and protein at the same time. Doing so will promote insulin secretion, which will lead to more efficient glycogen synthesis.
As a general guideline you should aim for a 3:1 ratio in terms of carb, protein intake. In other words, if you are taking in 30 grams of protein, you should aim to be consuming 90 grams of carbs.
If you’re working out more than once per day, you will need to take in more post workout carbs. For example, if you go for a run in the morning then go to the gym at night, you will want to have two post workout meals, each of which provides you with between 90 and 120 grams of carbs.
Many people avoid post workout fats because they think that they will slow down the absorption of proteins and carbohydrates. However, recent research had challenged this notion. One study showed that consuming whole milk after your workout promoted faster protein synthesis than taking skim milk. However, other studies have shown that high fat content in a post workout meal does not affect protein synthesis. The wise course would be to consume limited amounts of fats post workout.
When Should You Eat Your Workout Meal?
After your workout, your body is in a catabolic state where the muscles are breaking down. The sooner you can get nutrients into your body, the quicker the body will switch into an anabolic state. That is why many experts recommend that you consume your post workout meal as quickly as you can after the workout.
Research has shown that if you wait more thn two hours before having your post workout meal, the resulting level of glycogen synthesis can be reduced by as much as 50 percent.
Other research indicates that people who have eaten a pre workout meal that contains carbs and protein will still be able to receive benefits from that meal that will improve muscle protein and glycogen synthesis.
There used to be talk of a twenty minute window after your workout when you need to get your carbs and protein into the body. The current state of research indicates that we can stretch that time frame out to two hours.
Many people who have just had an intense workout won’t feel like eating straight after training. They’ll hit the shower, get changed and then, about 30-40 minutes after the workout has ended, start developing an intense hunger. So, the bottom line is to listen your body’s signals, but to be sure to get that meal in within two hours of putting down the weights.
So, What Should You Eat?
So far, we’ve established that your post workout meal should be focused around carbs and protein, but that a little bit of fat won’t hurt. The key thing is to get those nutrients to your muscles as quickly as possible, so you will want to eat foods that are easily digestible. When it comes to carbs you obviously want to avoid high sugar options that will cause your blood sugar levels to go crazy. Here are some great post workout meal food choices . . .
- Sweet potatoes
- Chocolate milk
- Fruits (pineapple, berries, banana, kiwi)
- Rice cakes
- Dark, leafy green vegetables
- Animal- or plant-based protein powder
- Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Protein bar
- Nut butters
- Trail mix (dried fruits and nuts)
Remember that the ideal carbohydrate / protein ratio is 3:1 in favor of carbs. Some people find it easier to tolerate liquids than whole foods after their workout.
If you choose to make use of a post workout protein shake, you will want it to contain that 3:1ratio in favor of carbs. Look for a product that uses fast acting, quick digesting whey protein isolate or hydrosylate. This will provide you with a rich source of branch chain amino acids while also boosting the immune system. Whey isolates contain 90-96 percent protein with virtually no lactose. This is great for people who are lactose intolerant.
By taking your nutrients in liquid form you will be able to absorb your protein and carbs more quickly than whole food sources.
When it comes to carbs in your post workout drink, you should look for either of these ingredients on the label . . .
Dextrose is the name that is given to glucose that comes from corn. Glucose is the energy source that is used up when you exercise and that you are in need of replacing. In order to create glycogen, carbs must first be converted to glucose.
A huge benefit of dextrose is that it can be absorbed directly through the gut into the bloodstream. In addition, it is already in the form that the body needs, it is immediately available to be used to restore the body’s glycogen levels.
Maltodextrin is a complex carbohydrate. It, too, is absorbed directly into the gut. But before it can be utilized it needs to firstly pass through the liver so that the bonds between the glucose molecules van be broken down. That means that it will take more time to be used for muscle glycogen replacement.
- Have your post workout meal within 2 hours
- Your need Protein and Carbs in a 1:3 protein / carb ratio
- BCAAs will assist in muscle growth and repair
- If taking post workout shake, you want it in a 3:1 carb / protein ratio
- Look for a post workout shake that has added glutamine, creatine, beta alanine and glutamine