Wondering what you should be consuming after your workout to get the best results, while not cancelling out the hard work you did in the gym? Get great benefits from a nutrition and supplement plan that helps restore tissue, build muscle, burn fat, and build strength.
This article tells you ten tips you MUST know about post-workout nutrition. These tips assume that you are training at an intensity that warrants post-training refueling and replenishment. If you don’t train hard, you won’t get results, and adding post-workout nutrition to the mix won’t solve your problem! So, make it a habit to train hard and with variety, and then boost your results with supplement support.
Tip #1: Take Whey Protein to Gain Muscle
Liquid whey protein is ideal post—workout because it is digested quickly. Whey supports protein synthesis and tissue repair more than casein protein, which releases its amino acids at a slower rate into the gut. Pea or rice protein blends are alternatives if you are intolerant to whey, in which case, take additional branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) post-workout as well because pea and rice proteins don’t provide as many amino acids per gram.
Studies show whey protein leads to greater muscle gains and simulates protein synthesis more than casein, soy, and other protein sources. For example, a study tested the effect of giving whey, casein, or soy protein to trained young men who performed resistance exercise. Taking the whey protein increased muscle protein synthesis 122 percent more than the casein and 31 percent more than the soy. Muscle hypertrophy gains from training and taking whey protein are also impressive—a classic example is a 2005 study that found that taking whey protein post-workout produced a 29 percent increase in muscle cross-sectional area (CSA) in type II muscle fibers and an 18 percent CSA increase in type I fibers compared to a carb supplement.
Tip #2: Take Whey Protein to Lose Fat
Taking whey protein is one of the simplest and most effective ways to lose fat in conjunction with training. For example, a 10-week resistance training study using trained body builders found that giving them a whey protein supplement post-workout resulted in a 5 pound loss of fat, while they simultaneously gained 12 pounds of muscle. In contrast, a group that took whey with carbs had similar muscle mass gains, but they also gained about 4 pounds of fat. Final body fat percentages were 13.6 percent for the whey protein group compared to 15.9 percent for the whey/carb group, indicating that for fat loss, whey is the protein to go with, and carbs should be avoided.
A second study published in the Journal of Nutrition
reinforces the benefit of whey for shedding pounds. Participants were overweight with an average age of 51 who did not do resistance training. Taking whey protein while continuing to eat a normal diet resulted in significantly more fat loss than adding soy protein to the diet. After six months, they not only lost fat, body weight, and waist circumference, but also had decreased levels of the hormone ghrelin, which serves as a hunger signal.
Tip #3: Take Whey to Recover Faster After Exercise
Due to its fast digestion pattern, whey protein is the best option for promoting recovery from intense training. For example, one study found that participants who took whey protein after performing muscle-damaging eccentric training recovered much faster than those who took a carb supplement. Participants were able to produce much more maximal force at 3 and 7 days after the eccentric workout than the carb supplement group.
Whey is also preferred because it supports immune function and has an antioxidant effect. Plus, the lactose can be removed from whey, making it acceptable for people who are lactose intolerant. Be aware that many whey supplements will have added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup as sweetener—neither of which you want in your whey. If you are going to add carbs to the shake you want it to be a high-quality carbohydrate form that will replace muscle fuel rapidly.
A conservative suggestion for whey protein intake after training is 0.5 g/kg of body weight. An 80 kg or 175 lb person will want to take at least 40 grams of whey. You can easily go higher—0.6 to 1 g/kg is useful for greater muscle building and fat loss. If you are using creatine powder you can add it to the whey shake or you can take creatine capsules separately.
Tip #4: Take Creatine To Gain Muscle and Increase Work Capacity
Creatine is the first energy source called on by the body and it plays a primary role in energy metabolism because it is a more efficient source than ATP. It increases protein synthesis rates and initiates a greater anabolic response to exercise with lower cortisol. Numerous studies show creatine is an effective performance-enhancing aid.
For example, the 10-week study using body builders mentioned in #2 also tested a creatine/protein/carb supplement. Results showed that this group gained the most muscle (16 pounds), and had much greater strength gains than the other groups. Including creatine in the shake resulted in a 75 lb increase in squat strength compared to a 50 lb increase in the other two supplement groups that took protein alone or protein/carbs. Gains in the bench press and pulldown were also much greater in the creatine group.
Tip #5: Take Creatine To Lose Fat
Creatine can help you lose fat because it increases work capacity and energy use. For example, in the body building study mentioned above, the inclusion of creatine with protein/carbs allowed participants to lose an average of 1 pound of fat while gaining muscle. In contrast, the carb/protein group gained almost 3 pounds of fat while gaining 13 pounds of muscle. Final body fat percentage for the carb/protein group was 15.9 percent, compared to 14.1 percent in the carb/protein/creatine group.
In addition to helping you lose fat while gaining muscle, taking creatine can minimize fat gain in the case of a high-fat diet. A number of studies have tested the effect of taking creatine with a high-fat diet in which as much as 75 percent of the diet is fat. One recent study in the Journal of Nutrition found that creatine countered visceral fat gain and prevented the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in rats. Researchers suggest the creatine eliminated oxidative stress thereby improving insulin health and affecting metabolic pathways that lead to fat gain.
Tip #6: Decrease Inflammation Post-Workout by Taking Creatine
Creatine is not only an energy source but it also functions as an antioxidant, minimizing the inflammatory response to training. In the long-term, greater muscle creatine content will minimize oxidative stress that leads to chronic inflammation and health problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and accelerated aging.
Just as was seen in the Journal of Nutrition study, other findings have shown the antioxidant effect of creatine is responsible for its therapeutic influence on the brain. People with greater dietary creatine intake have demonstrated slower progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Creatine is gotten in the diet from meat and fish, with large amounts being found in beef and salmon. There is significant evidence that muscle creatine stores are lower in vegetarians than non-vegetarians.
Tip #7: Take Creatine to Improve Reaction Time When Exhausted
Compelling evidence shows that creatine will improve skill execution in sport training when you are tired. A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that rugby players who took creatine when they were sleep-deprived performed better on skilled passing tests than players who took a placebo. In fact, creatine was more effective than caffeine, but it also produced a better muscle-building environment with a favorable testosterone to cortisol ratio.
Tip #8: Take Beta Alanine with Creatine: Gain More Mass, Lose More Fat
Beta alanine is a precursor to carnosine, which is stored in the fast-twitch fibers and is used for anaerobic energy production. It helps the muscles contract with more force, and do so longer without fatiguing. Another reason it enhances performance is that it stabilizes muscle pH during exercise by eliminating excess hydrogen ions that accelerate fatigue.
A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that collegiate wrestlers and football players improved performance on sports-specific strength, speed, and power tests after supplementing with beta alanine. More intriguing, the wrestlers who took beta alanine lost body fat while gaining muscle. Fat loss with muscle gains is particularly difficult for weight-class athletes who must keep body weight within a weight class.
Beta alanine and creatine are often taken together because they both improve anaerobic performance and body comp, and they are best taken using a dosing protocol. For example, a high-low dose of 3.2 g/day for 4 weeks, followed by 1.6 g/day for 4 weeks improved muscle carnosine levels and anaerobic performance more than a 1.6 g/day dose for 8 weeks. Similarly, loading with 20 to 30 grams of creatine for a week helps to “load” the muscle. After the loading period, you can use a lower dose of 3 to 5 g/day to maintain levels.
Tip #9: Let Training Goals & Volume Dictate Carb Intake
Your carb needs will be dictated by assessing the combination of training volume, body fat percentage, and goals. If you’re not super lean, you may not need carbs in your post-workout shake. Rather, you’ll get them from the diet. However, carbs may be beneficial if you are training with an intensity and volume that depletes glycogen.
Insulin sensitivity is at its highest after a workout making this the best time of day to eat carbs. Opt for fibrous carbs, such as green vegetables or high antioxidant, low-glycemic fruits for best fat loss results. If you are not ready to eliminate bread, pasta, and other high-carb sources, after exercise is the time to eat them, but please do something to minimize the insulin response and improve glucose uptake.
Tip #10: Use Fenugreek and Berries to Improve Blood Sugar Response with Carbs
There are certain herbs (fenugreek) and foods (raspberries, strawberries, and bilberries) that are proven to slow digestion and minimize the insulin spike that comes with carbs. This is critical because if you don’t, it can defeat the purpose of your hard work in the gym.
A number of studies show fenugreek may be the most effective because it aids digestion and manages glucose so that it has a blood sugar-lowering effect. One study in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that a bread with added fenugreek resulted in much better insulin sensitivity than a standard wheat bread in diabetics.
Tip #11: Drink Water/Avoid Caffeine
Hydration is the greatest determinant of strength! Many people are horribly dehydrated despite the little plastic bottles of water they carry around. Research shows that greater hydration will allow you to train harder and longer, and there is evidence that dehydration causes cardiovascular stress as well as deterioration in central nervous system function and muscle metabolism. For example, a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that men who drank five glasses of water a day had a 54 percent lower risk of dying of a heart attack than those who drank two glasses day.
And five glasses is not enough: At least 0.6 to 0.7 oz/lb of body weight or 39 ml/kg of water a day. A 200 pound man should drink at least 120 to 140 ounces water daily. Do not drink commercial sports drinks. These are packed with carbs and chemicals and will do you no good!
The only time to drink or take caffeine is before exercise. After your workout is the worst time to drink coffee or get caffeine because it may raise cortisol, which negates all the good things you did for your body by exercising. Don’t do it! You shouldn’t need coffee after your workout to wake you up if you have the nutrition basics covered and you get your BCAAs and protein during and after training.