Most people are at least somewhat familiar with the importance of post-workout nutrition, yet few truly know what to eat in order to optimize recovery after a workout. Optimal recovery will allow you to get back in the gym sooner and hit your next workout harder. As many of you may know, anabolism (muscle-building) does not actually occur in the gym. In fact, training is generally catabolic (causes muscle breakdown)! Muscle-building actually occurs during the recovery period, making proper post-workout nutrition essential for gaining muscle. This article will discuss how you can make the most of your post-workout meal so that you can recover more quickly and keep chasing gains!
Muscle-building occurs from an increase in muscle protein synthesis (or mps for short). One of the main factors responsible for increases in mps is the mTOR pathway. Proper post-workout nutrition should seek to stimulate mTOR for optimal results. mTOR is stimulated exercise, insulin, and the consumption of leucine. (1) Obviously, exercise has already been completed before your post-workout meal. Insulin is released after carbs are consumed and leucine can be consumed through protein or BCAA supplementation. These stimulatory factors are discussed in greater detail below.
Supplement companies have marketed the importance of a post-workout protein shake for years, and for good reason! Protein consumption post-workout is essential for optimizing results, as discussed later in this article. What is often overlooked, however, is the consumption of carbs post-workout! Carbs are often demonized in the health and fitness industry, generally without a real cause other than the fact that it is easy to eat too many of them. However, carbs are essential in most diets and when calories are controlled carbs do not lead to increased weight gain (see https://goo.gl/74dYk9 for more info). In fact, carbs are essential for optimizing athletic performance. Not only do carbs have their place in your pre-workout meal as future articles will discuss, they are also essential post-workout. Muscles store carbs in the form of glycogen. This muscle glycogen is the primary fuel source for bouts of exercise lasting between about 30 seconds and 2 minutes, such as a typical set of resistance training. This depletion of glycogen is largely responsible for the feeling of muscular fatigue after an intense workout. (2) Glycogen stores must be replenished in order for your muscle to recover. Glycogen stores are easily replenished through the consumption of carbs after a workout. Glucose transport into the muscle is significantly elevated when glycogen stores are depleted, meaning that post-workout carbs will be stored as glycogen rather than fat. Of course, if you eat more carbs than your glycogen stores can hold, the excess will be stored as fat. Therefore, replenishing your glycogen stores is not an excuse to eat over your daily carb allotment, it simply creates an optimal time to eat a large portion of your carbohydrates for the day. Many people reach for fast-digesting carbs such as candy, bread, or sports drinks after a workout in order to replenish glycogen stores immediately! This immediate replenishment helps recovery to occur more quickly and is essential if you’re training twice a day. If you train once per day, however, slow-digesting carbs will likely replenish your glycogen stores before your workout the next day. Faster digesting carbs may still be beneficial due to their effects on insulin release, however.
Insulin is a highly anabolic hormone, responsible for shuttling both glucose and amino acids into the muscle cell. The consumption of carbs at specific times allows us to manipulate insulin can to maximize size and strength gains. Sugary, high-glycemic carbs lead to a spike in insulin. When carbs are consumed after a workout, the resulting insulin spike will end the muscle protein breakdown that was created during training through the stimulation of mTOR. Not only does insulin help end muscle protein breakdown, it will also cause an increase in mps by helping to shuttle amino acids into the muscle. This is where protein consumption comes into play.
As muscle protein is greatly degraded during exercise, it makes sense that this protein must be replaced in order for this increase in mps to occur. While insulin has the potential to cause an increase in mps, this will not occur if the amount of amino acids needed for recovery are not available. (3) Protein consumption, more specifically the consumption of the amino acid leucine are needed in order to maximize the anabolic effects of insulin. Amino acids such as leucine are created when protein is been broken down by the body. These aminos can then be shuttled into the muscle to take you from a catabolic state to an anabolic state. Protein consumption is essential post-workout and the insulin spike resulting from carb consumption helps the transition from catabolism to anabolism to occur more rapidly and intensely.
The consumption of carbs and protein each have their own benefits post-workout, but it is evident that the combination of the two is optimal for maximal results. Consumption of carbs and protein is generally recommended in a 2:1 ratio (2g of carbs for every 1g of protein). Conventional guidelines are ≂ .8g carbs per kg of bodyweight and .4g per kg of bodyweight. With this meal, fat consumption should be limited as fat slows down the digestive process. However, all of these are loose guidelines that may change for you based on your diet, metabolism, and goals. In fact, your post workout diet may be completely different from anything described in this article if you are diabetic or following diets such as intermittent fasting, ketogenic diets, etc. It is important to adjust any nutritional advice to your own needs, and this article is no different. With that said, having no plan for post-workout nutrition means you are missing out on a ton of gains! The 2:1 ratio of fast-digesting carbs to protein is optimal for a majority of diets and a majority of people. Give it a try today and get ready for some insane increases in not only your recovery but also your results!