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The Ultimate Guide to Post-Workout and Muscle Recovery

Post workout & muscle recovery supplements

Fitness enthusiasts will invariably pay strict attention to pre-workout preparation, but post-workout nutrition and supplements are every bit as essential. The right blend of nutrients after a workout can improve your body’s composition and performance, as well as helping with overall muscle recovery. Post-workout nutrition is considered highly important in helping athletes to replenish their energy levels, increase muscle size and repair any damage caused to muscles during the workout.

The importance of post-workout supplements & nutrition

After an intense workout, our micro level tissues become damaged and our bodies use a lot of fuel. This will make us stronger and leaner in the long-term, but repair is needed in the immediate aftermath of a workout. This recovery happens through a process called protein turnover, whereby damaged proteins are broken down and replaced by the construction of new proteins. The breakdown of proteins is increased substantially, while new proteins will increase only slightly.

An ideal way to redress this imbalance is to consume an ample amount of protein after a workout so that the construction of proteins (muscle synthesis) is more pronounced than the breakdown of old proteins. Stored carbohydrates also diminish substantially during a workout, so after exercising, it is vital to intake enough proteins and carbohydrates in order to reach the metabolic environment for which we often aim.

The benefits of post-workout supplements & nutrition

  • It helps greatly with post-workout muscle recovery.
  • It reduces soreness in your muscles.
  • It improves your ability to add muscle.
  • It improves your immune function.
  • It enhances bone mass.
  • It increases your ability to utilise body fat.
 
Post workout supplements
 

Essential ingredients for a post-workout supplement

BCAAs:

Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) contain a mixture of leucine, isoleucine and valine, all of which are essential amino acids for helping to digest food and repair damaged muscles. The recommended intake of BCAAs depends upon your personal fitness goals, but it is advisable not to take any more than 20 grams per day.

Carbohydrates:

Carbs refuel your muscles and become stored as glycogen, which helps to combat fatigue. They are often the quickest way to energise muscles, particularly if you routinely exercise at a high intensity. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a daily intake of 3.2 to 4.5 grams of carbs for each pound of body weight that you carry.

Vitamins B6 & B12:

Vitamin B helps the body to form red blood cells and produce energy from food. It is also useful for reducing inflammation and regulating mood and sleeping patterns. Overall, vitamin B is excellent for enhancing vital bodily processes so that you can maximise strength during a workout. Aim for a minimum daily intake of 1.3 milligrams of vitamin B6 and 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12.

Vitamin C:

As an antioxidant, Vitamin C helps you to deal with metabolic stress that comes from training. It can also be ideal for reducing the likelihood of developing a cough or a cold that would impede your ability to exercise. Men should intake at least 90 mg of vitamin C every day (75 mg for women), but you should never exceed 2,000 mg a day, as this could lead to nausea or stomach cramps.

Tart Cherry:

The effects of tart cherry are immediate, so pain and muscle damage are relieved quickly and it is also anti-inflammatory. Research shows that marathon runners will recover faster if they drink a glass of tart cherry juice straight after a race.

 

Best time to take post-workout supplements

Fitness instructor Michael Morelli advises on the best time to take post-workout protein

You should aim to consume a post-workout supplement as soon as possible after your workout, as this is when your body is primed to accept nutrients. Also, the use of calories after entering your body is at its best in the immediate aftermath of a workout, so it is generally advisable to have your post-workout supplement at the earliest opportunity.

Immediately after a workout:

As soon as your workout is done, you should aim to intake 5-10 grams of leucine and 5 grams of glutamine. Leucine is an essential BCAA for stimulating muscle growth and triggers muscle protein synthesis, as well as boosting the release of insulin. High insulin levels immediately after a workout aid the flow of nutrients such as glucose and amino acids into muscle cells. Glutamine is also vital for achieving protein synthesis and needs to be consumed in conjunction with leucine in order for muscles to grow. Glutamine helps muscles to load up better with glycogen, which adds to muscle size and boosts energy for your next workout.

30-60 minutes after a workout:

After the leucine and glutamine has been fully absorbed, then it’s time to take on board 40 grams of whey protein, 40-80 grams of fast-digesting carbs and 3-5 grams of creatine. The protein acts as a building block on top of the leucine and glutamine in the muscle growth process. The fast-digesting carbs go straight to exhausted muscle fibres and are stored as glycogen, as well as helping with retention of the catabolic hormone cortisol. Creatine, as an antioxidant, will enhance the recovery process by minimising the damage to muscles caused by intense workouts.

 

What to eat after a workout

While supplements provide an excellent performance boost, they should be consumed in conjunction with (not as an alternative for) a healthy, well-balanced diet. Any meal you eat following a workout should contain a mixture of proteins and carbohydrates, depending on your nutritional type. Your body is lacking in nitrogen after a workout and your muscles will have been broken down, hence the requirement for amino acids from high quality animal proteins and vegetable carbohydrates.

Recommended proteins:
  • Lean, grass-fed red meat
  • Nuts and seeds (ideally raw)
  • Organic chicken (dark meat for protein nutritional types)
  • Organic free-range eggs
  • Whey protein
Recommended carbohydrates:
  • Bananas
  • Brown rice
  • Couscous
  • Oats
  • Pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Rice cakes
  • Sweet potato
  • Vegetables
Carbs to avoid/limit intake:
  • Apples (high fructose)
  • Beets (high sugar)
  • Carrots (high sugar)
  • Pears (high fructose)
  • Watermelon (high fructose)
 

Muscle recovery – what is it?

Muscle recovery

Muscle recovery refers to the timeframe where muscles regain strength after being put under heavy strain during a workout or prolonged, intense exercise. The trauma experienced by muscle fibres activates satellite cells on the outside of muscle fibres. The satellite cells then fuse with the old muscle fibres to strengthen the muscle. This happens due to the new nuclei from satellite cells being used to synthesise more proteins, in turn aiding muscle growth.

People can sometimes neglect muscle recovery because it is not as exciting as training or working out, but it is every bit as important to maintaining a muscular physique as any exercise. By neglecting muscle recovery, you are cancelling out the effects from fusion of satellite cells with old muscle fibres, thus stalling the growth of muscle. In order to allow your muscles to recover adequately, you need to eat well, get plenty of relaxation and use suitable recovery techniques.

The importance of muscle recovery

  • Muscle recovery is essential in order to gain strength, and that will only happen from allowing your muscle tissues to rebuild after a heavy workout. If you fail to let your muscles recover fully from a workout before doing the same routine, you are simply breaking them down even further and heaping more damage on already damaged tissues – and that is wholly counterproductive.
  • When you work out, it isn’t just your muscles that are being exercised. You are also putting stress on your central nervous system (CNS) and when that’s tired, it affects all of the muscles in your body, not just those on which you focused during your workout. If you exercise before your CNS recovers fully, you run the risk of complete systematic fatigue.
  • Giving yourself an adequate amount of time to allow muscles to recover will maintain a high level of motivation to keep working out. If you’re feeling tired and you’re forcing yourself to exercise when your heart’s not in it, you won’t get any benefit whatsoever from the exercise.
  • Working too much on a specific area will increase the likelihood of injuring yourself from an overuse of exercise.
  • You need to have a pastime or hobby outside of intense exercising so that your mind, as well as your body, is detached from exercise sufficiently to allow yourself to concentrate fully during workouts.

Factors affecting muscle recovery

  • Nutrition: Your body needs adequate portions of the right nutrients to aid recovery.
  • Sleep: Your body needs 8 hours of sleep a night to release hormones and testosterone so as to optimise strength gains.
  • Stress: Where possible, try to minimise stress in your daily life. If you’re stressed, you’re holding on to cortisol in your body. That will break down your muscles and impede recovery.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol acts as a toxin in your body, so when you consume alcohol, your body is focused entirely on removing that toxin, leaving the recovery process neglected.
  • Gender: Men generally have better recovery rates than women due to higher testosterone levels, although this can be offset to an extent as men generally put a greater volume into their workouts, which would increase the requisite post-workout recovery time.
  • Age: As you get older, your recovery system gets slower and your body is unable to take the same volume of exercise as in younger years. Allowing yourself more recovery time as your age progresses will greatly help with muscle recovery.

Supplements provide a massive help to training performance, but it is important to remember that they are intended as part of a healthy and balanced diet, not as a replacement for one. After reading this guide, you now know how, when and why to take post-workout supplements for muscle recovery. Be sure to always read the label of any post-workout supplement you consider taking. Avoid it if there seems to be no research behind it and exercise caution over supplements with lengthy ingredient lists.