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The Window of
A Body Builders Guide to Post-Workout Nutrition
By Adam Knowlden
Reprinted with permission.
The sweat, the blood, and the tears…You’ve given it your all. This time you didn’t hold back. You truly gave it everything you had and then some. You’ve trained beyond failure, beaten your body into submission, and conquered the hardcore world of mass training. One final step remains in the quest for hypertrophy…
Sealing the Deal
Post-workout nutrition is a short, but sweet, window of opportunity that only comes once a day; immediately following a brutal bout of training. This is one opening that you don’t want to miss! Doing so will not only sabotage previous hard earned gains, but will completely cancel out any potential gains you would have made from your hardcore workout! All that intensity and pain for nothing! What happens within the body during this window in time establishes whether you will gain muscle in response to the workout you just completed, or simply return to your pre-existing state; or worse than that…lose previous gains! Post-workout recovery is the primary factor of the outcome of this short-term muscle recovery process. This is the one time of the day that can literally “make you” or “break you” as a body builder. It is the intention of this article to give you an understanding how to get the maximum potential from your maximum efforts, via post-workout nutrition!
The Oasis in a
Before we get into the details of post-workout nutrition, let’s cover why immediate after-training nutrition is so vital. Hardcore training necessitates extreme energy demands on our body! ATP is the immediate supply of energy for our muscles as we workout. As we continue our training, ATP stores are reduced and glucose (ready to use energy) and glycogen (stored up energy) are used as fuel for our muscles. Glycogen is the primary fuel source for moderate- to high-intensity exercise. The longer exercise continues the more glycogen is burned.
What is the Secret to consistent gains?
In order to develop muscular endurance, and thereby become capable of performing longer and more intense workouts, we as body builders need to enhance our ability to store the carbohydrate fuel known as glycogen in our muscles.(This is one of the main reasons training for Mitochondrial density is so important!) And in order to gain new muscle from our workouts, we need to regularly stimulate a protein surplus with which to stimulate hypertrophy in our muscles. Following a workout, muscle glycogen stores are depleted, and many muscle proteins are also broken down, leaving us in a deficit state in respect to both of these crucial nutrients. As more and more glycogen and glucose is burned up for energy, blood glucose levels begin to drop-off, which in turn cause insulin levels to drop drastically. That is a very vital step to grasp because of the properties insulin has in relation to protein synthesis and anabolic hormone production. These drops give rise to the catabolic hormone Cortisol. Cortisol is the last thing you want to let run rampant post-workout. Cortisol is the chief hormone responsible for “burning” muscle up for energy.
Here’s how it works:
Cortisol literally converts muscle tissue to proteins for conversion into glucose. This is your body’s way of producing energy when all readily available energy (glucose) and stored forms (glycogen) of energy have been expended. To compensate for this depletion of energy your body will go into a process called gluconeogenesis to produce glucose from amino acids in the liver. The end result of this process? Hard earned muscle used as energy, and all potential gains becoming null and void. To sum up the post-workout scenario: cortisol increases, and insulin decreases. This scenario presents several needs to our starving bodies.
In order to get maximum results from our workout we must turn these glycogen and protein deficits into glycogen and protein surpluses immediately afterward. So the two most important components of muscle recovery are replenishing the glycogen fuel burned during the workout and rebuilding the muscle proteins that are destroyed during the workout. These processes are highly time-sensitive: the sooner they are allowed to begin, the faster they proceed and the more likely they will be completed in time for the next training session. This is because following training, the muscle cells are highly receptive to insulin, the hormone responsible for transporting glucose and amino acids through the bloodstream and into the muscle cell. This crucial stage of receptiveness is more technically known as facilitated diffusion.
Jacob describes this process best in his article, Muscle Fibers Part I:
“Facilitated Diffusion - This is diffusion that is assisted by protein transports. When a needed nutrient is low in the muscle cell environment and it cannot pass through the pores, then it must be transported). This is similar to the above process except that it needs a boat to get across the plasma membrane and into the cell environment. Following a workout, when glucose concentrations are low, and you down a high carb drink, the glucose in your blood stream has a high concentration. Therefore it diffuses to the lower concentration area inside your muscle cells. The green nutrients are insoluble to lipids, they therefore must move across the membrane in a transported manner. The purple protein transporters as you can see take the nutrients, carry them across the membrane and then release them inside of the cell environment!”
Immediately after our training session, a natural restoration in anabolic hormones starts to occur, as our body tries to start the recovery process of protein synthesis. The main volume of these hormones include: Insulin, Growth Hormone, Insulin-Growth Factor, DHEA, and estrogens.This restorative process is called biochemical supercompensation. However of all of these hormones, released insulin is the most important. Insulin rebound is responsible for the release of Growth Hormone, which is the key hormone responsible for the release of Insulin Growth Factor. Protein synthesis will simply NOT occur if there is an insufficient or delayed supply of energy and amino acids to offset post-workout catabolism. The primary goal of post-workout nutrition is to rapidly induce an environment that will recoil, and help increase, these naturally occurring hormone levels to begin the crucial process of protein synthesis. This can be best accomplished by decreasing post-workout cortisol levels rapidly and aiding our bodies in rebounding insulin levels, to further aid in the release of Growth Hormone and Insulin-Growth factor. By consuming simple carbohydrates post-training we can induce an increased production of these anabolic hormones and thwart gluconeogenesis; thus maintaining a more positive nitrogen balance.
So how exactly do we generate this atmosphere of anabolism? First and foremost we need to suppress cortisol as fast as possible! This is the number one rule of post-workout nutrition:
Whether bulking, maintaining, or cutting, cortisol suppression is of the utmost importance for:
1. Gaining or maintaining lean mass.
2. Recovering glycogen stores.
3. Increasing anabolic hormone levels.
Cortisol can not be suppressed any faster than through a burst of insulin release from simple carbohydrate source. A prompt insulin discharge is highly beneficial in the post-training atmosphere because of the hormones uncanny ability to suppress cortisol. The faster this release takes place the faster protein and carbohydrates are delivered to the muscles to promote muscle recovery and adaptation. Insulin is secreted by the pancreas automatically in response to rising levels of glucose or protein in the bloodstream. Because of the body’s receptiveness to nutrition post-workout it is crucial to feed the “window of opportunity” as soon as possible following a maximum output of anaerobic threshold intensity. Consuming and absorbing carbohydrates within 30 minutes of completing a workout will synthesize twice as much muscle glycogen as waiting two hours for consumption or absorption. Consequently, both glycogen and protein synthesis proceed faster when carbohydrates and protein are consumed together.
In one study 10 healthy adults were subjected to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise. Half the subjects were fed a protein-carbohydrate supplement immediately after completion of their workouts. The remaining subjects were fed the same supplement three hours later. Members of the “early” group replenished muscle glycogen 3.5 times faster than members of the “late” group. Muscle protein synthesis also proceeded more than three times faster in the early group. This among countless other similar studies point to one clear goal… Rapid absorption of post-workout nutrients! This is best accomplished from the insulin inducing carbohydrate-protein supplement combination. Again, the rate of glycogen and protein synthesis in the muscles depends on the amount of insulin present in the bloodstream. With that, let’s take a look at the most vital ingredients of post-workout nutrition.
Soaking up Nutrients like a Sponge!
Post-workout your body is a literal sponge. In a highly catabolic state it will soak up anything you give it! Let’s look closer at ingredients that use this to our advantage.
During the post-workout phase of training our bodies are in a hypoglycemic stage. Blood-sugar and insulin levels have drastically dropped. Immediately following exercise natural GH concentrations struggle to increase as insulin levels try to rebound from its current highly catabolic state. A simple carbohydrate supplement combined with the post-workout window of opportunity will give immediate rise to blood glucose levels and cause a state of hyperglycemia. This will force a increase in the production of insulin! In other words simple carbohydrates will lay the smack down on cortisol production. The newly increased quantity of insulin in the blood will drive much needed glucose (and amino acids) through the receptor sites in the muscle cell at an insane rate. These elevated stages of blood glucose will begin causing further secretions of Growth Hormone, the key hormone responsible for producing Insulin Growth factor.
Why simple carbohydrates? Increased absorption rates, and an abruptly induced insulin burst. The faster you can get glucose into your bloodstream and muscles, the less protein destroyed and the more glycogen stored. This is the one time of the day when you want to stay clear of complex carbs. Complex and fibrous carbs simply take way too long to digest and will not give optimal insulin release to offset muscle catabolism. You also want to stay far away from any fat and fructose sources post-workout. Fructose will not replenish muscle glycogen but rather will replenish liver glycogen. Fat severely delays digestion because it metabolically requires so many more processes to break down.
Another vital key to post-workout nutrition is insulin sensitivity. Creating stronger insulin sensitivity is the primary way to get the most out of your post-workout simple carbohydrate intake. Only certain types of simple carbohydrates will replenish muscle glycogen. These are carbohydrates in the form of glucose/dextrose. The basis of our simple carbohydrates (post-workout) should come from sources that register high on the glycemic index. A range of 100-130 will work the best for our purposes. Dextrose or Maltodextrin are the two sources of simple carbs I recommend to ingest post-exercise.
Protein intake in combination with simple carbohydrates, post-workout, are the key ingredients to achieving a state of anabolism and offsetting the bodies’ process converting muscle tissue for energy expenditure. Fast absorption via digestion, is of paramount importance at this stage. So a liquid or powdered form of protein derived from hydrolyzed whey is the best logical supplement. Whey in powder or liquid form takes an average of 20 minutes to absorb, making this form of protein number one in the race for assimilation. Eating a slower burning form of protein like chicken or beef post-workout is missing the mark completely. It is impossible to take advantage of the post-workout window with a protein food source that will take 2 hours to hit your bloodstream.
Re-hydration post-workout is crucial. Thermoregulatory processes need to be put in check as well. Water is responsible for storing carbohydrates and will also help to further speed up the digestion process of the carbohydrates and protein.
Creatine, Glutamine, and Vitamin C.
Creatine works by increasing the muscles' ability to generate peak torque during a muscle contraction. It does this through increasing anaerobic ATP production. ATP is the high-energy compound that is utilized during muscle contractions. The more torque you can produce during a contraction, the more stimulus the muscle receives. The more stimuli it receives, the more adaptation will take place through an increasing in myofibril density (muscle growth) provided that the recovery environment is sufficient for recuperation from the workout. Simply put, creatine will enable you to train harder and longer. Stimulating insulin release will greatly enhance the transport and uptake of creatine into the muscle tissue where it is used to support the reproduction of ATP (energy) and enhance cell volume.
L-glutamine is an absolutely essential amino acid that possesses anti-catabolic qualities. It is also the primary fuel source of immune cells and intestinal cells. Under periods of stress like really intense workouts, glutamine becomes critical because your body may not be able to make enough of it. If enough glutamine is not supplied by the diet, then the loss of muscle tissue will provide the supply. Intense exercise also places a high demand for glutamine in a healthy body, making post-workout an ideal opportunity for consumption.
L-Glutamine plays an important role in:
1. Protein metabolism
2. Cell Volumizing
3. Increased Strength and Endurance
4. Tissue Repair
5. Higher Growth Hormone output
6. Anti-catabolism/Decreased chance of overtraining
7. Immune system enhancer
The greater number of days you're training, the higher you're risk of fatigue and symptoms of overtraining will be. You can greatly reduce this risk by adding additional glutamine to your post-exercise meal. High-protein foods such as meat, fish, beans and dairy products are excellent sources of glutamine that should be eaten on a regular basis as well as supplementation. L-Glutamine is one of those all-star supplements you just can’t get enough of! Supplement throughout the day with as much as you can afford! If you are on a tight budget I recommend saving this miracle amino acid for the post-workout window of opportunity.
Vitamin C and E: Your immune system is immediately suppressed after intense resistance exercise. Post-workout is a fantastic time to provide the body with cellular protection support in the form of antioxidants to reduce exercise-generated muscle tissue stress. Oxygen is a potent type of free radical molecule that damages protein cells by pilfering electrons from them in an effort to enhance its own stability. Due to the exponentially higher rates of oxygen consumption associated with exercise, those who work out regularly will experience vastly greater amounts of oxidative stress to muscle tissues than do those who are sedentary. However, as long as increased intakes of antioxidant vitamins and minerals are taken, antioxidant defenses can be strengthened to a point that more than makes up for the damage incurred during workouts. Vitamins C and E are especially helpful.
How to Make and Take the Post-Workout Recovery Super Shake!
Thus far, we have covered the basic ingredients for making the optimal post-exercise anabolic cocktail. Now let’s cover the tactics endorsed for getting the most out of these nutrients. It is vitally important to restrict the rate at which we consume our post-workout meal. Even though our bodies can administer nutrients more effectively at this time more so than any other time, it is still very possible to overload our body’s capacity to digest. I consider an over-induced digestion of the post-workout meal as one of the leading causes of excess fat storages during a bulking stage.
Let me explain… Our goal is to get a steady flow of nutrients during the potent “window of opportunity” post-training. I believe an overproduction of insulin, resulting from an overly rapid consumption of simple carbs, is the reason for a lot of the typical “bulking phase chub” we all hate. As you consume your post-exercise meal, contemplate your energy levels over the next hour. It’s of the utmost significance that your energy levels do not go down at all during the post-workout period. If they do that means this flow of nutrients has been disturbed. Two things can offset this flow:
1. Your blood glucose levels are dropping, meaning you aren’t getting enough nutrients when your body needs them.
2. Your blood glucose levels rose too quickly! As a result of this your body secretes an overload of insulin to get rid of the blood glucose. What happens as a result of this overload? Some of it will go to start protein synthesis, but most of it gets converted to fat. Remember, excess glucose goes to fat.
To make matters worse, your blood glucose levels begin to drop and you go back into a catabolic condition. So not only are you catabolic but you gain fat! WHOA! That’s the very opposite of what we want! To protect against either of the above two scenarios consume your shake at a slower rate. Your post-workout meal should be taken over the course of a 45 to 60 minute period. This cushioning effect will ensure a better processing job of the nutrients consumed. As a general rule of thumb, consume half of your meal immediately, and sip on the rest over the 45 to 60 minute time frame.
Another major factor we need to consider is our water intake post-workout. I recommend one to two liters of water over this 45-60 minute period. Water is vital to carbohydrate storage. If we intend to replenish our glycogen stores post-exercise, water needs to be our greatest ally. However, just like consuming simple carbs too rapidly post-workout can cause an overproduction of insulin, so too overly rapid intake of water post-workout is detrimental to our goals. An overly induced intake of water causes the blood pressure to rise excessively, sending a signal to the brain that stops the secretion of a hormone called ADH, which causes the body to secrete more water than normal. The hydration process is much more efficient by consuming small amount of water over a longer period of time. I recommend one gallon of water consumption over the course of your workout, and one to two liters consumed over a 45-60 minute time frame post-workout.
The amount of simple carbs you take in should dictate the time frame of your post-workout intake. The more simple carbs you take in the more you should aim for the 60 minute time frame to ensure equilibrium of insulin production. Also, the amount of simple carbohydrates you take-in should be reflective of your goals.
As a general rule,
on a bulk-up plan the amount of carbs to consume following a hardcore weight
training session is five grams of simple carbohydrates for every ten pounds of
lean body mass (LBM). This would mean a body builder with 200lbs. of LBM would
consume 100 grams of high-glycemic simple
carbohydrates post-training. During a bulking phase, I recommend consuming
approximately half the amount of protein in grams as you did carbohydrates in
grams. So in this case our post-exercise shake would be mixed with 50 grams of
protein. This can be tapered higher or lower depending on your individual
On a cutting phase I recommend consuming 2.5 grams of carbs per ten pounds of lean body mass. The goal here is to consume just enough to suppress cortisol and increase growth hormone levels and to get out of our catabolic state. During a time when you are restricting calories, the last thing you want is to be catabolic. I also recommend consuming an equal amount of grams of protein as you did grams of simple carbohydrates. So the same bodybuilder with 200lbs of LBM, would consume 50 grams of carbs and 50 grams of protein during his cutting phase post workout. I also recommend cutting the carbs down for a less intense session, or for training a smaller muscle group. It would make sense that the more intense you are the greater the demand your body would place on post-workout nutrition and your post-workout shake should reflect that.
One important aspect I recommend in regard to the 45-60 minute time frame is spacing out the timing of the ingredients of your post-workout meal. To better explain, let me split up our post-workout meal into two phases:
Mix (using the same 200 lb. male on a bulk example) 100 grams of a combination of 50% of your carbs coming from Dextrose and 50 % of your carbs coming from Maltodextrin with 50 grams of hydrolyzed whey protein, all mixed with 1 Liter of Water. Shake all the ingredients well. (I personally like using a Tupperware cup for my shakes) Scoop out and consume 5-10 grams of creatine, and consume along side the shake. I don’t recommend mixing the creatine directly into the shake. Simply spoon it into your mouth and drink it down with your shake. Consume 1/2 of the shake in this immediately following your workout in this manner. After you have taken half the shake in, continue taking small sips of the shake.
15-20 minutes later
Scoop out and consume (again don’t mix directly into the shake) 5-10 grams of L-Glutamine. Now is the time to consume any anti oxidants with your shake. A high quality multi-vitamin will work well, or you can just take Vitamin C and/or E. This combination of L-Glutamine and anti-oxidants will help to super charge your immune system after the beating it has just taken. Continue sipping on your post-workout meal for the duration of the initial 45-60 minute period. 30 minutes after you have completely finished your post-workout meal eat a well balanced meal.
Protein synthesis is amplified by 50% post-workout but it can be elevated as high as 110% up to 24 hours post-training! So keep supplying nutrients to your body all day long for optimal gains, drink plenty of water, and adhere to the pre-sleep stack I described in the Z factor part one. The main difference with the meals following your post-workout shake is to begin adding fat to your meal. Healthy fats have numerous benefits to the body builder. Increased fat intakes are highly associated with a more positive nitrogen balance, and also work to increase insulin sensitivity!
Building a Better You!
We’ve covered the importance and seriousness post-training nutrition demands! It may take some planning and consideration to prepare, but I assure you giving 100% to this all encompassing meal will reap the rewards of your labor 100 fold. This is one time of the day that you don’t want to be caught ill-equipped.! Until next time, stay hardcore.
Copyright 2003 AbcBodybuilding. Reprinted by The Vegetarian Bodybuilder™ with permission. This material may not be copied, reproduced, or transmitted without the express written permission of the copyright owners. Visit www.abcbodybuilding.com for more info.
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