YOUR PRE- AND POST- WORKOUT NEEDS
Nutrition & Supplementation: The Symbiotic Relationship for Maximum Muscle-Building Results
Building muscle really is a science. A workout breaks down muscle, while proper nutrition helps stimulate the biochemical activities that turn on the recovery process. The final piece of the puzzle is proper supplementation, which can provide that extra boost to push through a workout, speed recovery, or help maintain your body. What’s more, if your nutrition isn’t on point, supplementation can help cover where your diet is lacking. How do you make supplementation and nutrition work for you to maximize muscle building? Try these simple symbiotic pairings to help drive your muscle-building results.
Before your workout, you need to focus your nutrition and your supplementation in a few areas. Getting in the right pre-workout nutrients can help increase energy levels, reduce time to fatigue, increase stamina, strength, and speed, and help you mentally focus during your lifts.
Your pre-workout nutrition should focus not just on the hour before your workout, but on the nutrition for the whole day. Eating enough protein and carbs will ensure that you have enough energy to get through your workout and help maintain a state of anabolism within your body—muscle building rather than catabolism. Carbs help maintain levels of muscle glycogen, the main driver of muscle contractions. When muscle glycogen levels drop, energy levels fail, leading to performance decreases. If you’re trying to maintain and build muscle, have long, intense workouts, and take little rest between sets, you should aim to have about 30 to 40 percent of your macronutrients from carbs, depending on how much extra weight you’re carrying and how fast your body metabolizes carbs. The majority of this can be consumed before and after your workout to help maximize muscle glycogen levels and minimize depletion. Use a combination of both fast- and slow-digesting carbs, including fruit such as bananas (which also pack minerals for balancing muscle cell hydration), whole grains such as oatmeal, soluble green vegetables, and non-starchy root vegetables such as sweet potato that provide a source of fibre and can help sustain energy and endurance levels.
A few key research-based products can help drive energy and workout endurance, including betaine, beta-alanine, caffeine, and, if you’re lacking with your nutrition, carb powders. Betaine, which is naturally found in beets, has been shown to help support muscle cell water retention, which can help decrease protein breakdown. Betaine also works as a key methyl donor involved in synthesis of methionine, a key amino needed for the production of muscle-building creatine. When creatine levels are elevated, there’s more available adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which means longer working sets and more power! Beta-alanine, on the other hand, helps decrease fatigue by buffering the buildup of lactic acid that can cause fatigue and muscle pain. Lastly, caffeine is an ergogenic supplement that can help increase energy and endurance and enhance cognitive function and focus. Caffeine works by reducing glycogen utilization, which means you can spare glycogen for your muscles and burn off more fat! The best part about caffeine is that you don’t need to take it in a supplement form; try a shot of raw espresso 30 minutes before training to go the distance.
Post-workout nutrition and supplementation helps stimulate the recovery process, including glycogen resynthesis, enhancing anabolic pathways involved in protein synthesis, helping reduce inflammatory processes, and helping to promote hormonal balances, particularly during the sleep phase of your post-workout recovery.
At one time, post-workout nutrition was only concerned with one specific time period immediately after your workout, termed the “anabolic window.” This was one to three hours after your workout, in which the first hour was considered the most important. It was thought that taking in a specific ratio of nutrients would maximize your muscle gains. But in actuality, what’s more important is what you eat over the whole day, rather than what you eat after training. Most individuals don’t use up enough muscle glycogen when training to result in muscle breakdown or loss. That being said, if your nutrition isn’t on point throughout the rest of the day, you won’t be making any gains either way. The amount of carbs and protein you need after working out depends on your activity level, your athletic ability, and the amount of available energy you have before you start your workout. Generally speaking, about 20 to 40 grams of protein coupled with about 40 to 80 grams of carbs is more than enough to produce an anabolic response. Assuming that the macros for the rest of the day are roughly 30 to 40 percent carbs, 40 percent protein, and the remainder coming from healthy fats, you’re well on your way to maximizing your muscle-building potential.
The one post-workout supplement that stands above the rest is branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). BCAAs, particularly leucine, have been shown to help increase protein synthesis in muscle tissue by maintaining a positive nitrogen balance in the muscles. BCAAs can also increase strength, reduce fatigue, and help maintain muscle. In muscle cells, leucine works on a few major protein synthesis pathways, including mTOR and p70, while also reducing catabolic protein markers. Dosing between 6 and 10 grams of a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, valine, and isoleucine is sufficient to spark muscle building; taking it within one to even three hours after working out will still help to stimulate muscle anabolism. If, for some reason, you can’t eat within a reasonable time frame after your workout, supplement with a protein powder; consume one to two scoops of whey protein or a plant-based protein.