After a hard workout, your muscles become “primed” and ready for the uptake of important nutrients to help refill muscle glycogen storage, ignite the repair process and stimulate muscle protein synthesis, also known as muscle building. Getting the right nutrition after your workout will help to maintain and develop the lean body you want. What’s more, if you are currently following a strict diet for competition, post-workout nutrition becomes even more vital, as lack of proper nutrients can lead to muscle breakdown, improper recovery, and leave you open to injury. Research has shown that consuming the right post-workout nutrients immediately after training is superior to consumption hours later. Here’s five supplements you should consider consuming post-workout to maximize recovery and ensure you obtain a full return on your hard work in the gym.
- Whey Protein Hydrolysate
In addition to whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate, there is also whey protein hydrolysate or WPH, which undergoes more processing than either the isolate or concentrate, and thus can be considered a higher quality protein. WPH undergoes a high degree of hydrolysis through an enzymatic reaction, which breaks down the protein into small fragments called peptides. Within our guts are transporters called PEPT1, which are specifically designed to transport peptides. In fact, the peptides can bypass the slow digestive process that regular proteins undergo and pass directly into our muscles, where they can regain a positive protein balance in the muscle to ignite protein synthesis and muscle building quickly. To top it all off, WPH can be absorbed in as quickly as 10 minutes, making it a perfect post-workout protein supplement choice. Look for a pure whey protein hydrolysate powder or a whey protein blend that contains hydrolysate. Since hydrolysate is short peptide chains, it’s not the best tasting protein, blends offer up the same benefit with a better overall taste. Not to mention, pure hydrolysate blends are often much more expensive than blends. Most whey protein blends offer between 25 and 30 grams of protein per serving.
- Branched-Chain Amino Acids
Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, are a critical nutrient for reducing muscle catabolism or breakdown and stimulating protein synthesis, and since whey protein hydrolysate is not always that easy to find, and can be a bit expensive, you may want to opt for BCAAs as a good alternative. BCAAs are metabolized in the muscles, result in greater muscle growth, and can work to prevent muscle breakdown. The most important BCAAs for muscle synthesis and repair are isoleucine, valine and the very important leucine. Leucine has been shown to be a key regulator in muscle protein synthesis. When leucine concentrations are low, the muscle activation pathway shuts off, allowing the body to start using hard-earned muscle as fuel! However, supplementing with leucine raises intramuscular concentrations, causing activation of muscle protein synthesis once again. For maximum benefit, try supplementing with 1.5 to 3 grams of leucine post-workout. Leucine can be used on its own or as part of a BCAA supplement— opt for powdered options, which act fast to deliver the nutrients you need quickly to spark the recovery process.
- High-Glycemic Carbohydrates
High-glycemic carbohydrates are fast-digesting carbohydrates that can work quickly to reload and restore glycogen levels immediately after a strenuous workout to help initiate recovery. Post-workout is the one time that high-glycemic carbohydrates are essential. High-glycemic carbs, which are usually classified as simple sugars, work to quickly raise blood sugar and hence insulin levels. The elevated insulin levels help to drive nutrients into the muscle cells. Simple sugars such as dextrose or maltodextrin are common post-workout carbohydrates, but more recently, waxy starches have started to become popular alternatives. Waxy starches are carbohydrates derived from various sources, such as rice, barley and maize, also known as corn. Waxy maize is a fast-acting high-glycemic carbohydrate, which has a low osmolarity rate compared to dextrose or maltodextrin, meaning it can be absorbed quicker and directly by the intestines, where it can immediately be assimilated into muscles to replenishing glycogen stores and energy. Because of its fast absorption ability, waxy maize has the ability to shuttle other important post-workout nutrients into the muscles. Waxy maize or other high-glycemic carbohydrates, such as dextrose or maltodextrin, can be purchased on their own, but can also be found in many pre-made post-workout powder supplements, along with the other key post-workout nutrients mentioned on this list. If you choose to make your own post-workout mix, combine your high-glycemic carbohydrate in a 2:1 ratio along with your choice of protein.
Creatine is one of the most popular post-workout supplements for anyone who wants to gain lean muscle. It is by far the most researched and effective supplements on the market today. Creatine works by providing muscle cells with the energy they need to perform more work, through the generation of ATP— our muscles’ energy source. Supplementing with creatine results in gains in muscle size and strength. Clinical studies show that creatine can significantly increase lean muscle mass in as little as just two weeks. If that’s not enough, it also plays a role in improving performance in high-intensity exercise, increasing energy levels, and speeding up recovery rates. Women tend to have much higher natural levels of muscle creatine versus men, which means we do not need a high dose to increase stores and experience all the benefits creatine has to offer. Research has also shown that supplementation with creatine in women cannot only increase strength but also reduce body fat! Unfortunately, creatine can sometimes cause bloating and water retention— two things most women do not want to experience from a supplement! Water is needed for transport of creatine into the muscle cells, and can therefore cause increased water retention in the body. Despite this factor, the benefits of creatine supplementation still outweigh the negatives. Skip the loading phase and use a post-workout dose of 1.5 to 3 grams per day. Also, consider reserving creatine use for the off-season or muscle-building phase, to avoid unnecessary water retention come contest or bikini season!
After an intense and exhaustive workout, glutamine levels in the body can become depleted, which can halt muscle recovery and repair. Glutamine has been shown to aid in recovery, reduce protein catabolism or breakdown and increase protein metabolism. Its presence is found in the blood, gut and the skeletal muscles and is used as a main source of fuel for the immune system. Glutamine is considered by some as being conditionally essential, particularly in states of injury or compromised immune function. After training, injury to the muscle cells occurs, causing our immune systems to induce the recovery process to help repair tissue damage to muscles. Supplementing with glutamine decreases the amount of glutamine that is taken from muscles to aid in immune function. By supplementing with glutamine post-workout, you can reduce the amount of muscle breakdown that happens during a workout. The glutamine available in the muscle cells will then be available to help maintain muscle protein balance and can be used to fuel the recovery process. Research has shown that after intense workouts, glutamine levels in the body are reduced. Supplement with up to 5 grams of glutamine post-workout. For maximum benefit, do not combine with protein or BCAAs, as these supplements can compete for up-take by the muscle cells; reserve glutamine for approximately two hours post-workout.
Bird SP et al. (2006). Liquid carbohydrate/essential amino acid ingestion during a short-term bout of resistance exercise suppresses myofibrillar protein degradation. Metabolism. 55: 570-577.
Bird SP et al. (2006). Effects of liquid carbohydrate/essential amino acid ingestion on acute hormonal response during a single bout of resistance exercise in untrained men. Nutrition 22(4): 367-375
Bird SP et al (2006). Independent and combined effects of liquid carbohydrate/essential amino acid ingestion on hormonal and muscular adaptations following resistance training in untrained men. Eur J Appl Physiol. 97(2):225-38.
Bowtell JL et al. (1999). Effect of oral glutamine on whole body carbohydrate storage during recovery from exhaustive exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology. 86(6): 1770-1777.
Brenner M et al. (2000). The Effect of Creatine Supplementation During Resistance Training in Women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 14(2): 207–213
Castell LM & Newsholme EA. (1997). The effects of oral glutamine supplementation on athletes after prolonged, exhaustive exercise. Nutrition. 13(7): 738-742.
Castell LM & Newsholme EA. (1998). Glutamine and the effects of exhaustive exercise upon the immune response. Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology. 76(5): 524-532
Greenhaff PL et al. (1993). Influence of oral creatine supplementation of muscle torque during repeated bouts of maximal voluntary exercise in man. 84(5):565-571
Ivy J. (2004). Regulation of muscle glycogen repletion, muscle protein synthesis and repair following exercise.JISSN. 3:131-138
Miller SL et al. (2003). Independent and combined effects of amino acids and glucose after resistance exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 35:449-455
Norton & Layman. (2006). Leucine regulates translation initiation of protein synthesis in skeletal muscle after exercise. J. Nutr. 136:533S-537S
Tipton KD. (2003). Acute response of net muscle protein balance reflects 24h balance after exercise and amino acid ingestion. Am J Physiol Endocrinol. 284:E76-E89
Volek JS et al. (1997). Creatine Supplementation Enhances Muscular Performance During High-Intensity Resistance Exercise. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 97(7): 765-770.