In the few hours after a workout our bodies are in a unique state from which we can benefit from targeted nutrition specific to your goals. From both a recovery and muscle building perspective, as we exercise two important things happen. Firstly, we break down muscle tissue that needs to be repaired and secondly our body often uses up a key energy store, glycogen.
To help promote muscle recovery, feeding with a quality source of protein after training will help prevent excessive muscle breakdown and provide the amino acids as the building blocks to allow muscle recovery to take place.
The most popular post workout protein source is whey protein, which fits the bill perfectly as a protein source as it contains all our essential amino acids to support muscle recovery/growth including Leucine which is an important amino acids that triggers muscle building processes. In fact, providing a quality source of protein such as whey has a synergistic effect with resistance training on our capacity to support muscle growth. So the periods after a workout, not just immediately, but several hours after, are important to provide enough protein to take full advantage of our workouts1. Whey protein is also quick to digest and absorb, is often easier to palate and more cost effective and convenient than other protein sources, so is an efficient way to get amino acids in to the body when it needs them most.
For those who are maybe sensitive to dairy/whey then other quality protein sources such as beef protein isolate are a suitable replacement. For vegans then our Complete Vegan Blend™ protein combines plant sources of protein to make sure the body gets all the essential amino acids it needs post-workout to support recovery. Current guidelines suggest we want to consume a good amount of protein in this period, with an amount of 0.4-0.5g of protein per kg of bodyweight being a ballpark amount to aim for1.
Building muscle is also an energy demanding process, so alongside our post workout protein source we might want to use this opportunity to provide extra fuel and combine our protein with a source of fast digesting carbohydrate such as Vitargo®, Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin (Cluster Dextrin®), Dextrose and Maltodextrin. This will help provide some of the calories we need to support muscle growth as well as replenishing glycogen stores. Adding extra carbs here in these forms is important for those who maybe struggle to put on muscle through eating whole foods, as these carb sources are often much easier to palate, allowing for an increase in calorie intake to support muscle growth.
The main difference between these different carb powders is how soluble they are in water and how easy they are to digest. Some people may struggle with Dextrose or Maltodextrin if they don’t consume enough water, as these can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, whereas Vitargo® and Cluster Dextrin® are more soluble in water so are less likely to cause digestive issues.
Cluster Dextrin® mixes much more thinly than Vitargo® so is probably a bit easier to consume in large amounts and this makes it a particular favourite amongst many people, especially as an intra workout carb source, as it is easier to consume during a workout.
The purpose of post workout nutrition
Post workout shakes aren’t just for those looking to build muscle, they can also be important for endurance athletes and those who take part in a wide number of sports. Protein will still help with help recovery but more importantly in this situation, during a training session/competition, the chances are we are going to be depleting one of our main stores of energy, glycogen.
In the few hours after a workout the body is primed to restock glycogen stores, with our muscle and liver cells rapidly taking on any carbohydrates we consume more efficiently than at any other time. The amount of carbohydrate we need post workout depends on the duration and intensity of exercise and our overall daily energy requirements.
This is especially important for those who need to recover quickly, who might have multiple training sessions or events/games in the period of a few hours. The most efficient way to do this is by providing a source of quick digesting source of carbohydrate that rapidly appears in the blood stream ready to be taken up by tissues to be stored as glycogen, which is exactly what the carb powders we have mentioned were originally designed for.
As well as protein and carbs we might also want to think about adding some other supplements that are in line with our goals. For those who lose a lot of fluid during exercise/sport then you might want to add some electrolytes to replace those that are lost in sweat.
For muscle building, or performance of any activity with high intensity, explosive bursts of activity, then Creatine is always a useful and effective addition to a post workout shake. Creatine is more efficiently taken up into muscle tissue in the post workout window, so this is as optimal time as any to add in creatine in to your routine2.
Creatine ‘works’ by allowing increased storage of Phosphocreatine (PC), which allows us to recycle our body’s energy currency, Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP). This ATP-PC energy pathway is what provides and sustains high intensity exercise and runs out fairly rapidly, so the more PC we can store the longer we can maintain high intensity bouts of strength and power and the better our potential for improving performance.
In summary, your post workout window is a unique opportunity to help support recovery and muscle growth and with the addition of a few simple ingredients, designed to your own tastes and requirements, then you can easily capitalise on this window and provide solid support to help you in reaching your performance or physique goals.
1.) Aragon and Schoenfeld (2013) Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? JISSN 10(5):2-11.
2.) Antonio and Ciccone (2013) The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. JISSN 10:36.