After exercise, your muscles are completely depleted of the nutrients they need to begin the recovery process. But the good news is they are also highly receptive to take up nutrients, refill glycogen stores, and restore protein balance to kickstart muscle protein synthesis or muscle building once again. So if you are serious about building muscle tone and reaping the benefits of your hard work in the gym, then it is absolutely critical that you fuel your body with the right post-workout nutrition.
During a workout, there is an increase in oxidation or a breakdown of the critical components that drive muscle function and energy production, including glycogen and essential amino acids. Exercise causes muscle protein turnover, which is the rate at which protein degradation or muscle breakdown increases, and the rate at which skeletal muscle protein synthesis decreases— essentially resulting in catabolism of muscle mass. The aminos, more specifically the branched-chain amino acids, are involved in the exact pathways that stimulate muscle building and the recovery process. As glycogen is depleted and used up, the body will switch to using the essential aminos to maintain energy and make glucose, and even after a workout, breakdown will continue until the right nutrition is received. Therefore, in order to halt muscle breakdown and ensure all your hard work in the gym doesn’t go to waste, you need to get the right post-workout nutrition, and what’s more, you need to ensure you get the right mix of macro and micronutrients at the right time!
Some people call the time after the workout the “window of opportunity.” As time elapses, this window begins to close, ruining your chances for a full recovery. Research suggests that consuming your post-workout meal within 30 minutes to one hour of training will ensure you are getting the most benefit out of your time spent in the gym! Consider the following five rules for post-workout fueling to enable proper muscle recovery and repair for a lean and firm hard body!
Rule #1: Make it Liquid. The key to your post-workout nutrition is ensuring a fast delivery! Therefore, it must be liquid; this will ensure rapid digestion and delivery of the important hormones that are necessary to stimulate the muscle growth and repair process.
Rule #2: Pack it with Protein and BCAAs. Following an energy-draining, muscle-tearing workout, one of the most important nutrients you need to consume post-workout is protein. In terms of quality and bioavailability, whey protein isolate (WPI) or whey protein hydrolysate (WPH) are excellent choices. Both are extremely fast-digesting proteins and highly soluble, which means they can kickstart the repair process quickly!
WPI and WPH also contain a high concentration of branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs, which are considered the building blocks of muscle. They are critical for driving protein synthesis, reducing protein breakdown, and stimulating the release of insulin. Insulin is an anabolic hormone responsible for building various energy molecules in the body and preventing the breakdown of muscle following a hard workout.Several studies suggest that BCAAs can help delay fatigue and the onset of muscle soreness, as well as the markers of muscle damage associated with intense exercise. By ensuring that adequate amounts of the branched-chain amino acids are available to your muscles after training, you can delay fatigue, guard against training-induced muscle breakdown, and expedite recovery. WPI and WPH also contain a high proportion of the BCAA leucine, which is one of the most important because of its ability to directly stimulate muscle building by activating a major complex in the protein synthesis pathway called mTOR. Research has shown that leucine has a positive effect on protein metabolism, increasing the rate of protein synthesis, and decreasing the rate of protein degradation after intense training. Aim for a serving of 20 to 30 grams of whey protein that offers up a high concentration of essential BCAAs in every serving.
Rule #3: Become a Sugar Baby. Although you might be tempted to skip out on the carbohydrates, especially straight up sugar, it is actually necessary to drive protein and nutrients into your depleted muscles! Your post-workout meal should contain a source of high-glycemic carbohydrates, such as dextrose, sucrose or straight up table sugar! Sugar is easily digested and can quickly raise blood sugar and, hence, insulin levels. The elevated insulin levels will help to drive fuel into the muscles to help replenish lost muscle glycogen, and will also stimulate muscle synthesis and repair! Try a carbohydrate powder that can be easily mixed with your protein powder. Consume a 2:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein for best results.
Rule #4: Hold the Fat and Fiber. Simply put, fat and fiber slow down digestion. Therefore, if you combine fats or fiber with the two needed components of your post-workout meal as mentioned above, protein and simple carbs, you will only be slowing down their digestion— which, of course, is the exact opposite of what you want to happen.
Rule #5: Grab Recovery Essentials. Be sure to add glutamine and vitamins C and B to your post-workout recovery plan! Supplementing with glutamine can reduce the amount that is robbed from the muscles during training. It has also been found to decrease neutrophils, which cause cell damage, and preserve muscle tissue and have a direct effect on protein metabolism.
As for vitamin C, multiple studies have found blood and plasma levels of vitamin C to be diminished in those who exercise regularly. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect muscle cells from free radical damage by acting as an antioxidant itself and by helping generate other antioxidants.
B vitamins are highly involved in protein metabolism by aiding in the manufacturing of amino acids and are also involved in carbohydrate utilization. Research has shown that athletes have an increased need for B vitamins and that performance can be improved with supplementation. Supplement with 3 to 5 grams of glutamine, 500 mg to 1 gram of vitamin C, and stick to the daily recommended dose of B vitamins.
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