Consuming a combination of protein/essential amino acids and carbohydrates immediately post-workout has been shown to speed up recovery and promote greater gains in muscle mass, strength, and performance.
This strategy should be used by anyone interested in enhancing his or her adaptations to exercise. So that includes the recreational athlete as well as the top-notch elite athlete.
The science of post-workout nutrition is robust!1-10 And the good news is this. You only need 100 calories for this strategy to work! Yes siree indeed! If you aren’t incorporating post workout and recovery nutrition, then you must start. It is silly NOT to do this.
Some folks say they can’t eat after training. They’re not hungry; they’re not this; they’re not that. Fooey. You gotta eat! As little as 100 calories will help; here’s the proof.11 One study took healthy male US Marine recruits from six platoons and gave them supplemental nutrition post-exercise during the 54-days of basic training. They received either placebo (0g carbohydrate, 0g protein, 0g fat), control (8g carbohydrate, 0g protein, 3g fat), or protein supplement (8g carbohydrate, 10g protein, 3g fat). You don’t have to be a math whiz to see that they’re not consuming many calories post-exercise; it’s about 100 calories (in the protein group anyhow).
Compared with placebo and control groups, the protein-supplemented group had an average of 33% fewer total medical visits, 28% fewer visits due to bacterial/viral infections, 37% fewer visits due to muscle/joint problems, and 83% fewer visits due to heat exhaustion. Recruits experiencing heat exhaustion had greater body mass, lean, fat, and water losses. Muscle soreness immediately post-exercise was reduced by protein supplementation vs. placebo and control groups on both days 34 and 54.11 What did these fine young scientists conclude? “Post exercise protein supplementation may not only enhance muscle protein deposition but it also has significant potential to positively impact health, muscle soreness, and tissue hydration during prolonged intense exercise training; suggesting a potential therapeutic approach for the prevention of health problems in severely stressed exercising populations.”
Another study compared immediate (P0) or delayed (P2) intake of an oral protein supplement on muscle hypertrophy and strength over a 12-week period of resistance training in elderly males12. Thirteen older men (age 74) lifted weights 3 times per week and received oral protein in liquid form (10 g protein, 7 g carbohydrate, 3 g fat) or immediately after (P0) or two hours after (P2) each training session. They found that muscle growth was much better in the P0 group versus the P2 group. In fact, the size of the quads was 7% larger in the group that took the supplement immediately after exercise versus no change in the group that waited 2 hours to consume the supplement. The science guys concluded that “early intake of an oral protein supplement after resistance training is important for the development of hypertrophy in skeletal muscle of elderly men in response to resistance training.”12
In the latest research from the cutting-edge Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, scientists assessed whether a liquid carbohydrate-protein (C+P) supplement (0.8 grams/kg carbs; 0.4 grams/kg protein) ingested early during recovery from a cycling time trial could enhance a subsequent 60 min effort on the same day vs. an isoenergetic liquid carbohydrate (CHO) supplement (1.2 grams/kg). If you’re trying to do the math in your head, the formula is basically 72.7 grams of carbs and 36.4 grams of protein for a 200 lb person versus the same gram amount in carbs alone. They found that liquid C+P ingestion immediately after exercise increases fat oxidation or burning, increases recovery, and improves subsequent same day, 60-minute efforts relative to isoenergetic CHO ingestion.13
Here’s an interesting tidbit. Consuming just the essential amino acids (EAA) is enough to promote significant muscle protein synthesis. One study showed that net balance of protein was similar for mixed amino acids (combination of essential and non-essential aminos) and EAA; and thus, it does not appear necessary to include nonessential amino acids in a formulation designed to elicit an anabolic response from muscle after exercise. From a practical standpoint, this would mean that whole protein foods (e.g. beef) would be inferior (if you did a pound for pound comparison) to consuming the essential amino acids (see list of EAA below).14
Methionine (and/or cysteine)
Phenylalanine (and/or tyrosine)
1. The Restoration of Electrolytes and Water – you need to maintain a hydrated state to optimize protein synthesis.
2. The Rapid Replenishment of Skeletal Muscle Glycogen Stores – you need to replace muscle fuel.
3. The Provision of Amino Acids to Aid Muscle Protein Synthesis and Accretion – you need to repair and promote the growth of muscle fibers!
The formula - Consume a combination that includes high-glycemic carbohydrate (20 grams) and a combination of whey isolate and essential amino acids (14 grams of protein, 6 grams of essential amino acids). And throw in a touch of flax oil (2-3 grams) for some healthy fat! For a great review of this topic, check out the International Society of Sports Nutrition’s Position Stand on Nutrient Timing.15
Though keep in mind that combining a pre-workout and post-workout nutrition strategy may actually be the ideal thing to do!7 Stay tuned for the next article expounding on this unique regimen.
1. Tipton KD, Elliott TA, Cree MG, Aarsland AA, Sanford AP, Wolfe RR. Stimulation of net muscle protein synthesis by whey protein ingestion before and after exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. Jan 2007;292(1):E71-76.
2. Cribb PJ, Williams AD, Stathis CG, Carey MF, Hayes A. Effects of whey isolate, creatine, and resistance training on muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Feb 2007;39(2):298-307.
3. Willoughby DS, Stout JR, Wilborn CD. Effects of resistance training and protein plus amino acid supplementation on muscle anabolism, mass, and strength. Amino Acids. Sep 20 2006.
4. Tipton KD, Elliott TA, Cree MG, Aarsland AA, Sanford AP, Wolfe RR. Stimulation of Net Muscle Protein Synthesis by Whey Protein Ingestion Before and After Exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. Aug 8 2006.
5. Hawley JA, Tipton KD, Millard-Stafford ML. Promoting training adaptations through nutritional interventions. J Sports Sci. Jul 2006;24(7):709-721.
6. Elliot TA, Cree MG, Sanford AP, Wolfe RR, Tipton KD. Milk ingestion stimulates net muscle protein synthesis following resistance exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Apr 2006;38(4):667-674.
7. Cribb PJ, Hayes A. Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Nov 2006;38(11):1918-1925.
8. Candow DG, Burke NC, Smith-Palmer T, Burke DG. Effect of whey and soy protein supplementation combined with resistance training in young adults. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. Jun 2006;16(3):233-244.
9. Bird SP, Tarpenning KM, Marino FE. Effects of liquid carbohydrate/essential amino acid ingestion on acute hormonal response during a single bout of resistance exercise in untrained men. Nutrition. Apr 2006;22(4):367-375.
10. Bolster DR, Pikosky MA, Gaine PC, et al. Dietary protein intake impacts human skeletal muscle protein fractional synthetic rates after endurance exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. Oct 2005;289(4):E678-683.
11. Flakoll PJ, Judy T, Flinn K, Carr C, Flinn S. Postexercise protein supplementation improves health and muscle soreness during basic military training in marine recruits. J Appl Physiol. Mar 2004;96(3):951-956.
12. Esmarck B, Andersen JL, Olsen S, Richter EA, Mizuno M, Kjaer M. Timing of postexercise protein intake is important for muscle hypertrophy with resistance training in elderly humans. J Physiol. Aug 15 2001;535(Pt 1):301-311.
13. Berardi JM, Noreen EE, Lemon PW. Recovery from a cycling time trial is enhanced with carbohydrate-protein supplementation vs. isoenergetic carbohydrate supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008;5:24.
14. Tipton KD, Ferrando AA, Phillips SM, Doyle D, Jr., Wolfe RR. Postexercise net protein synthesis in human muscle from orally administered amino acids. Am J Physiol. Apr 1999;276(4 Pt 1):E628-634.
15. Kerksick C, Harvey T, Stout J, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008;5:17.