Post-Workout Nutrition: What Should You Be Taking After a Hard Workout?
The Guerrilla Chemist, Chief Science Officer-Blackstone Labs, MS Organic and Biochemistry
You just finished a brutal workout. You trained balls-to-the-wall. You had your preworkout meal, and pre-workout drink before you trained. So what’s next? When you lift weights, you’re breaking down muscle fibers, which is a good thing. It’s the firs step in causing muscle hypertrophy. The second step however, is just as important, if not more important to building muscle: the post workout nutrient consumption. There’s a lot of broscience out there as to what you should take after a workout, but let’s talk about what the actual science says.
Leucine: The Most Important Amino Acid for Muscle Protein Synthesis
Leucine is one of the 3 branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), with the other 2 being isoleucine and valine. They are called branched chain because there side chains are branched like tree branches vs being linear. Several studies have shown that BCAAs, with leucine being the most effective, activate a protein known as mTOR(mammalian target of rapamycin), specifically mTORc1.1,2 Activation of mTOR results in a cascade of different events that ultimately leads to increase translation (the making of new proteins) specifically in muscle cells.3 In a study involving different forms of protein with different concentrations of leucine, it was shown that the amount of leucine present was the determining factor for muscle protein synthesis (MPS).4
So now that we’ve established leucine is a must have post workout, how much leucine do you need? Broscience would say “the more the better, right?” Well, you could be wasting your money. According to studies, 2.5-3g of leucine seems to maximize MPS. Any more than that doesn’t seem to affect MPS. There is something called the leucine threshold, where the activation of mTOR seems to be saturated. By contrast, 1g of leucine did not activate MPS.5,6
Carbohydrates and Insulin: How Insulin Prevents Muscle Breakdown and Builds Muscle
Insulin is the most anabolic hormone in the body. It’s the main reason bodybuilders compete in the 270s and not the 240s. Insulin is released by the intake of carbohydrates, and acts as a transport system for nutrients to your cells. This happens by stimulation of the beta cells in your pancreas, when carbs (specifically simple carbs like glucose) are ingested.7 Insulin has also been shown to increase protein synthesis and prevent muscle breakdown. Without getting too deep in the science, insulin increases the delivery of amino acids to muscle cells, which in turn helps increase protein synthesis. Insulin also inhibits the net protein breakdown (proteolysis).8 Combining these 2 elements should demonstrate the importance of taking in simple carbs that maximally release insulin.
R-Alpha Lipoic Acid: Maximizing Your Insulin Response
Insulin is a storage hormone, which means it can store carbs as glycogen (carb supply in your muscles) or as fat. Insulin has been shown to halt lipolysis (breakdown of fatty acids) and increase lipogenesis (creation of new fat cells).9 So how can you properly utilize insulin to increase glycogen and not increase lipogenesis? Enter: R-alpha lipoic acid (R-ALA). R-ALA is synthesized in the liver and has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity (how well your body uses insulin) by activating 2 important signaling molecules in the insulin pathway: insulin receptor substrate-1 (IRS-1) and protein and phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3-K). What this does is enhances the body’s ability to uptake and utilize insulin in skeletal muscles.10 R-ALA has also been shown to increase fatty acid oxidation (fat burning) and increase glucose uptake in muscle cells by activating a protein called AMPK. This leads to increased insulin sensitivity and less body fat storage when eating carbs.11
Glutamine: Why You Should Take It Post-Workout
Glutamine is one of the most abundant amino acids in the body, but it also gets depleted the most rapidly after exercise. One study suggests anywhere from 16-20% depletion of plasma glutamine levels after intense exercise.12 Because of this, and its many functions in the body it is classified as a “conditionally essential” amino acid. Glutamine has been shown to not only increase protein synthesis and have an anti-catabolic effect (by decreasing proteolysis), but also increase glucose uptake and replenish glycogen in skeletal muscle tissue.13 Glutamine is gluconeogenic, meaning it can convert to glucose if needed. After intense exercise, this can be extremely beneficial so that you’re not pulling glutamine from your body’s stores and taking it away from its functions such as immune support and protein synthesis. All of these benefits can be amplified with the addition of magnesium (Mg) to your glutamine intake. One study showed the anabolic effects of taking a magnesium-glutamine molecule (Magnesium Glycyl Glutamine, MgGG)) vs 2000mcg of oral testosterone. After 8 weeks, the subjects taking MgGG actually gained more lean mass than the testosterone group (3.2kg vs 3.0kg). The MgGG also increased plasma glutamine levels and was more stable than the free form glutamine.14
Protein: What’s The Best Type?
We all know that protein builds muscle, but what’s the best type of protein to consume after a workout? And more importantly, why? To answer that question we must first discuss the different forms of proteins. Whey protein is commonly consumed post workout for a few reasons, but the main one being its high leucine content. Whey contains about 10g of leucine per 100g, so 25g of whey would give you the necessary 2.5g of leucine needed to initiate MPS.15 In a 2009 study, whey hydroslyate (predigested/broken down whey), casein (a much slower digesting protein), and soy protein (relatively fast digesting protein) were compared to see which resulted in the greatest degree of MPS following exercise. Researchers determined that post-workout MPS was following a whey hydrosylate shake was 122% greater than casein and 31% greater than soy. They concluded that the reason for this was both the fast acting nature of whey hydrosylate (and similarly isolate done in a previous study) and the leucine content.17
Putting It All Together: Protein + Leucine + Glutamine + Carbs + R-ALA
The combination of protein and carbs vs protein and carbs and leucine vs just carbs has been studied extensively dating back to the late 90s. Most, if not all have reached the same conclusion: the combination of whey protein isolate, leucine, glutamine, and simple carbs have increased total MPS and decreased protein breakdown following intense exercise.18 One breakthrough study confirmed that maximum insulin response was noticed in the protein+ leucine+ simple carbs vs either just carbs or protein and carbs (240% vs 77% vs 77%). Researchers also showed that the combination of these 3 ingredients maximized MPS post-workout.19
Based on previous aforementioned research on R-ALA, this will only enhance the utilization of insulin, and help drive carbs into your muscles.
The culmination of all of this research was taken into account when Blackstone Labs designed its premium post workout stack aptly named “The Braun Explosion”. This stack consists of 1 bottle of Isolation, our whey protein isolate that’s an easily digestible and fast-acting protein source, one tub of Formula 19, our clinically designed post workout recovery drink, as well as a container of Glycolog and Resurgence. Formula 19 contains all of the ingredients I mentioned in the article to maximize your post-workout gains. I firmly believe that the combination of these products best follows the most cutting-edge research on post-workout nutrition. In fact, you can save 10% by using my discount code “GC10”, which I consider my own personal seal of approval.
The Internet is full of A LOT of broscience and misinformation. Don’t ignore the science and hinder your gains. You workout hard, so why use anything less than what has been scientifically proven to work? Make the most of your post-workout nutrition with The Braun Explosion.