I am huge on the idea of proper recovery from your training sessions. There’s no doubt, it’s an overlooked and under utilized concept. It goes without saying that I feel it’s one of the major keys to muscle growth. Many trainees simply do not understand how critical recovery is. They tend to think they can train every day for 2 or more hours. I once met a guy that did biceps and chest – that’s it – seven days a week, two hours a day. Then he wondered why he wasn’t making any progress! Sad to say, this type of thinking is way to common. It’s the old “ more is better” idea and it’s also a misunderstanding of the process of muscle growth. Many trainees think the more you lift the faster you grow. To a point, I can understand, after all the pros train quite a bit, right?
The truth is, recovery is the beginning of the muscle growth process. Yes, you stimulate the muscle in the gym but the actual act of training is catabolic. You have to recover from what you did in the gym if you want to grow. Read that last line again! Recovery really starts with how you prepare for your workout – if you have adequate glycogen stores going in you will not completely deplete total glycogen stores. Therefore, this allows for quicker recovery as after your workout.
The intra workout drink, which I am a huge fan of, also goes a long way in promoting recovery. After the workout, it’s the post workout shake or recovery drink. From there, it’s based on your nutrition and your rest. If you are training hard, you do not want to over exert yourself in other activities. Do what you have to, but don’t do more if it’s not needed. Again, proper recovery is one of the major keys to progress. Understanding this is critical to your success.
Post Workout Supplements
When talking about supplements and recovery, the primary focus point is post-workout. Post workout/ recovery products, then, are designed to fulfill the nutritional requirements of your muscles immediately after the workout. They are also designed to be used as you go through the recovery process. The idea of training being catabolic is changing with the introduction of the intra- workout products mentioned above. Still, you always – always! – want to have the post workout supplement of your choice within 20-30 minutes of your training session. This is an excellent supplement category with several exciting products in the line-up. It’s also a big category with at least 150 products to choose from!
It used to be you had protein with some simple carbs mixed in for your post workout shake. Actually, it used to be you just went to your local restaurant and had a meal. This is way back in the day. Of course, the meal took hours to digest and did nothing for the immediate needs of your muscles after training.
Your Post Workout Supplement
It’s true you can custom make your own shake. This allows you complete control over what goes into your shake. However, you can now buy well designed, specialized products designed solely for the post workout “window of opportunity”. What is the window of opportunity? It’s the hour before training and the 3 hours after training. This is the most productive window of time for nutritional enhancement. The focus here is right after training – right when what you do will make or break what you did in the gym.
Let me mention, some “experts” think this time frame does not matter. Ok. Does it hurt anything to ingest a shake or meal around this time? What’s that? You said no? Then what’s the big deal when I choose to eat or drink? I’d rather ingest a post workout shake than not. If I feel drained and hungry, why not? I’m not hurting anything, right Mr. Expert? With that pet peeve out of the way, let’s move on.
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- They help promote the recovery process after a hard training session or athletic event. They do this by providing a quick supply of the nutrients needed to help repair your muscles.
Depending on the muscle, it needs at least 48 hours to repair and grow from a hard workout. The larger muscle groups like chest, back and legs require more time as opposed to the smaller ones such as arms. Here are some general guidelines. The smaller muscles tend towards 2 days. The larger muscles tend towards 3-4 days. Muscle like the lower back muscles hit by exercises such as deadlifts tend towards 5 days. Now, these are general guidelines and different people will react differently. Also, some people may have some “help”, which speeds everything up. Still, this is a good starting point.
Replacing What You Use
Now, working out burns up amino acids, glucose, and glycogen stored in the muscles. Once you’ve completed your workout, your muscles are more receptive to accepting the nutrients that restore and repair the muscles. By replacing your glycogen stores quickly, you allow your body to recuperate faster. You also re-charge your fuel system for the next workout or event. What happens if you do not restore your fuel levels soon after the workout? Your muscle glycogen synthesis can be decreased by as much as 66%. This impairs recovery time.
Now, let’s look at the role protein plays by looking at protein synthesis. Proteins are comprised of amino acids. These are the building blocks of tissue formation within the body. The synthesis of protein is the method by which your muscles are constructed. The synthesis of muscle protein is also related to how you train. There is ongoing repair and maintenance of existing muscle tissue that may be damaged through the course of daily living. Beyond that your muscles will never get bigger or stronger through a sedentary lifestyle or the use of particular foods or supplements alone. As many of you know, you must train the muscle to build new muscle and it’s based on protein synthesis.
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All forms of physical activity will cause specific stress on the muscles being used. In a sport such as distance running or cycling for example, the stresses are cumulative. This is the combined effect of repetitive, low intensity movements. Weight training that typically involves explosive and heavy movements. Therefore, the various forces that impact the muscles are much greater. Plus, they occur over a shorter time frame. In each case, the muscle will break down, this process is known as “catabolism.” This breakdown includes the physical separation of the fibers that make up the muscle structure.
The repair of the damaged muscle is “anabolism,” or the building up and the growth of the existing and previously damaged fiber. Protein synthesis is how the body brings about this repair and muscle growth. When the body produces more synthesized protein than it consumes through its catabolic processes, muscle will be developed. The timing of all of this is critical – you need to get recovery going quickly!
Additionally, there’s a hormonal aspect to post workout supplements. You want to take advantage of the anabolic effects of insulin. For this reason, you want to cause an insulin spike within the workout time frame. This is one of two key times of the day you want to do this. The other is first thing in the morning. These are the only times you want this effect. This is because too many spikes result in fat gain. Increased post-workout insulin levels will not cause an increase in fat storage. This is because the nutrients will be directed toward repairing the muscles.
Insulin is a very anabolic hormone. One effect of insulin is that it influences target cells to increase uptake and storage of muscle-building nutrients. These nutrients include glucose and amino acids . So we see that an increase in insulin levels creates an optimal anabolic environment for muscle growth. Manipulating this natural metabolic response is all the more critical immediately after your workout. Having said all that, we can now understand the role of post workout supplements. Without a doubt, these products are a big part of the total recovery equation.
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What do these products contain and how do you make a good choice? Fundamentally, any quality post workout supplement should contain simple carbs and fast digesting protein. You need both after a workout, not just one or the other. With that said, the best products contain both whey protein and simple carbs. Additionally, various combinations of nutrients can be helpful in the recovery process. These include glutamine, bcaa’s, creatine, and vitamins. Carb sources will vary. They include dextrose, waximaize, specialized carbs, and product-specific fast burning carbs.
Amino Based Products
Several products are mainly aminos like the bcaa’s and glutamine. No doubt these are important. Some contain caffeine but this is not the most important thing after training. To be honest, I would avoid post workout supplements that are incomplete. The post workout period is to important. However, you don’t need a product lacking carbs, or providing only some aminos instead of complete protein. Although I’ve seen a few capsules products, most recovery supplements are almost exclusively powders. This means taste and mix-ability come in to your buying decision.
Timing and dosage are pretty self explanatory. Use it after your workout within 30 minutes. Most of the products advise consuming right after your training session. However, you could certainly continue to use the product during the next few days as you rest and recover. As always, you’ll want to read labels carefully and understand what you are buying. Good Luck and remember, it’s all about recovery!
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