There is a lot of hype surrounding the ideal protocol for workout nutrition. Lots of studies stress the importance of pre, during & post workout nutrition. Likewise, lots of absurd claims have been made regarding some specific supplemental regimes to maximize the window of opportunity around workout duration. Most of the authors making such claims work for supplement manufacturing companies or are funded by them.
But what should be an ideal workout nutrition protocol?
How important is workout nutrition actually?
Let’s take a look on what an aptly modern, tech-savvy nutrition-minded individual consume these days as workout nutrition.
Pre-workout: A specialized protein shake with functional carbs to preload the blood stream with nutrients. Many also like to take a pre-workout stimulant.
During workout: An intra-workout drink consisting of strategically placed peptides and amino’s with special carbs and electrolytes.
Post-workout: A recovery drink consisting of designer proteins with or without carbs.
In contrast, let’s also take a look at what old timers used to consume:
Pre-workout: A solid meal providing proteins and carbs an hour or two before. Some liked to have a strong black coffee before training.
During workout: Water
Post-workout: A meal similar to the pre-workout meal.
Now before you begin scoffing at old timers, let me tell you that lots of champions with world class performances had thrived on this routine for years. In fact, some of the old time records are still deemed with respect to this date. The new age players will get blew out of the water to know that the favorite post workout meal of a few of these dinosaurs used to be meat and beer.
So does that means that our current knowledge of workout nutrition backed by numerous studies is misleading us?
Well, the answer is:
Yes and No
Yes, because the cutting edge supplemental protocols with super expensive supplements have an agenda. These companies will market their products as if you fail to follow the supplemental regime purported by them, you’re going to lose all of your precious gains and land yourself
into the dark jungle of ‘catabolism’. Little demonic elves like cortisol will munch upon your hard-gained lean muscle tissue. And you’ll turn into a weak and emaciated structure resembling Randeep Hooda in Sarabjit. This is simply NOT true.
And No, because the idea of strategic liquid nutrition around workout has some significant merits for an athlete (Borsheim, E et al.). We will discuss those benefits here while keeping things in their proper perspective.
The Pre-workout physiological state of your body dictates your performance during the training session. It affects your post-workout physiological state and thence the adaptive response from training as well as recovery. Therefore it makes sense to get into a positive state by saturating your blood stream with enough nutrients and energy.
The simplest route to achieve such positive nutritional status is by ingesting sufficient amounts of quality proteins and carbohydrates. Delivery of these nutrients by mouth before a workout is a little slow but way convenient than intravenous infusion at the clinic.
An appropriate intake of nutrients before training boosts the protein synthesis mechanism by activating the signaling complex like mTOR for muscle growth (Dennis MD, et al.).
During Workout Nutrition
During the workout, the muscle protein breakdown is high, and the levels of catabolic hormones like catecholamines – primarily epinephrine and cortisol rises (Haff & Triplett). The combined effect of these factors leads to a net negative protein balance. The relationship between protein synthesis and protein breakdown governs the hypertrophic response. A net positive protein balance is required for muscle gain. It means that we need to shift the protein balance in our favor with the help of nutritional interventions.
Stored muscle glycogen rapidly depletes during an intense workout which leads to increased levels of catabolic hormones to mobilize more energy. The use of stimulants such as caffeine before workout expedites this process.
Judicious use of appropriate (fast acting) carbs during this period may help rapidly replace the lost energy during the workout which leads to less depletion of glycogen stores in the body and in response body releases less of the catabolic hormones. This allows a state conducive for a net positive protein
balance. Also, the high insulin response from carbs sets path for protein synthesis, provided surplus amino acids are present in the blood stream, as insulin is a storage hormone which shuttles the nutrients from the blood into the cells (Biolo G, et al.).
After an intense workout, the net protein balance is negative due to lots of breaking down of muscle tissue. It’s been shown that this state of catabolic environment can be reversed, and anabolism could be induced by ingesting right type of nutrients post-exercise. The raw materials we provide to our body during this period are critical to simulate the desired metabolic environment (Biolo G, et al.).
We’re specifically talking about protein and BCAA’s especially Leucine here. Providing amino acids and nutrient-rich blood supply during this period means that the rate of protein synthesis is increased. Some refer to this period as “window of opportunity” because research suggests that though the protein synthesis stays elevated for 48 hours after exercise; two hours post workout, your muscles are most primed to absorb nutrients and stimulate muscle repair, growth, and strength (Chesley A, et al.).
Also, literature states that carbs aren’t required post workout for protein synthesis. Even though insulin signaling from carbs is a potent activator of protein synthesis, it is not required during the period post training (Chow LS, et al.). Just protein is sufficient to create the anabolism required.
Still, insulin is a powerful inhibitor of protein breakdown, including carbs in the post workout nutrition may produce a synergistic effect with proteins on the protein synthesis metabolism and could really prove to be advantageous.
We had tried to create a solid case for the workout nutrition cutting out all the ill information surrounding it. The Proper nutrient timing could be a powerful weapon in your arsenal if you know how to use it in good order. In the next installment, we’ll discuss how to organize an effective workout nutrition plan to apply all this scientific information precisely.
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- Haff , G. Gregory , Triplett , N. Travis, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning / National Strength and Conditioning Association, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL
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