What To Consume and When To Consume It

Protein? BCAA's? Fruit? Chocolate Milk?

Everyone has different goals when going to the gym.  For some, it’s the only way they stay sane.  Others are looking for a better body.  Still others go for the social reasons.  If you’re like me, your only goal with going to the gym is to get as many health benefits as possible as efficiently as possible!

Each one of the aforementioned individuals should be going to the gym at different frequencies and engaging in exercise of different intensities to reach these goals.  It’s important to note that none of these goals are any better or worse, simply a personal preference, but the post workout strategy should reflect these goals.

First, let’s explore the reasons why we have so many post workout supplements.  While most of these supplements differ slightly, they usually contain significant amounts of protein or branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s), and carbohydrates.  The reason being, after you break down muscle you need the protein to build muscle back up, and the carbs are used to replenish the glycogen stores in the muscles so they can have fuel for future work.

*Quick side note: Think of glycogen as gasoline for your muscles.  When muscles undergo strong resistance training like heavy weight lifting, they use up their fuel.  In order for them to be ready to work again, they need to refuel, which can come in the form of dietary carbohydrates.

Before different scientific studies are introduced, it should be mentioned that most post workout strategies were adopted from the body building community who saw results largely due to assistance of steroids and/or growth hormone supplementation.  Again, not arguing right or wrong here, simply stating the fact that a human’s physiology responds drastically different in both recovery and utilization of protein/carbohydrates when using these substances.

Here is what science tells us about protein and carbs post workout.

In a study performed at Wash U, “muscle protein synthetic rate (MPS) is elevated in humans by 50% at 4 hrs following a bout of heavy resistance training, and by 109% at 24 hrs following training”.  So if your goal with the protein shake is to help build muscle, you’ll get the most benefit by drinking that protein shake or eating a high protein meal 24 hours post workout when your body is most active in the rebuilding phase.  Keep in mind that many studies (like this one) show there to be no difference in the “muscle-building” effects of protein above 30g at a time (again, unless a growth hormone supplement is being used).  So if it’s muscle building you’re after, you may not need as much as you think. 

So what about carbs like fruit or chocolate milk?  There is no doubt that the body becomes much more sensitive to insulin post workout because insulin transports “fuel” (glucose) back into the empty tanks of muscles when the body is in recovery mode.  Typically, this process in the body will peak about 45 min after the workout but will remain elevated up to 4 hours. There is some grey area here, because the intensity of the workout will influence how sensitive your muscles are to insulin’s “refueling”. 

So it does make sense to have some form of sugar (carbohydrate) post workout, especially at that 45 min mark.  However, that depends on the intensity AND your goals.

If you are going to be hitting a hard resistance training routine on a the same/synergistic muscle group tomorrow, you will want to replenish those glycogen stores so you can go again; enter chocolate milk/fruit smoothie.  If, however, you are not planning another intense resistance training in the next 24 hours, I’d hold off on the post workout drink or meal.  This is because the testosterone spike, which is the king of recovery and rebuilding, is blunted in the presence of insulin.  So when you ingest that sugary post workout drink right after your workout, your body will immediately dump insulin into the blood stream to manage the increase in blood glucose, and in the process, circulating levels of testosterone will decrease.

So what’s the best plan of action?

Again, this blog isn’t meant to argue how much exercise is enough and at which point you're over doing it, but if you typically workout 3 times a week, I’d try the approach of fasting post workout for 1-2 hours so the circulating testosterone and growth hormone can have a greater effect.  Protein immediately post workout has been shown to be minimally effective at best, so you won’t be missing out there, and if you’re not planning on hitting it hard in the next 24 hours your muscles will restore their glycogen stores over the course of your next few meals.

With all of this being said, you are an experiment of one.  Try different things.  Science can only take us so far and what works for one, doesn’t always work for the other. Whatever and whenever you eat, make sure it’s serving a purpose and you have at least a basic understanding of how your body is being effected. 

For more information on Chiropractic treatment, education on Body Maintenance techniques, or coaching for sustainable exercise programs visit www.ChiroStrength.com or call the office 931-321-1414 to schedule your FREE consultation with Dr. Dunaway.