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Post Workout Nutrition

John Hughes
As I enter the gym, my heart starts racing and I tingle with anticipation. Tim, my training partner, is already there at the squat cage. I warm up and load up the bar. The bar has close to 350 pounds on it and people gawk at the amazing weight. I put chalk on my shoulders and as it settles I lift. I go into the hole and out, my entire body screams in agony to stop. After eight reps I am exhausted, but Tim yells “three more John, come on.” Each time the weight crushes my bones. I rack the weight and collapse to the ground. When we finally leave the gym about one hour later, I slurp down a protein shake. I know a post workout shake is good but what should it have? What effect does nutrition have on exercise? And what effect does nutrition have on muscle growth? What effect do hormones have on muscle development and how do they interact?

I train to be a bodybuilder, but what is the best way to gain mass? The best rep range is between 5-7 and 10-12, this is when protein degradation is the greatest. Like the great Shawn Ray says “We build it up to tear it down, again and again and again ”. Rest periods should be between 1-2 minutes and no more then three muscle groups should be worked at a time (Zatsiorsky, 208-9). Such as back and biceps can be worked together or chest, triceps and deltoids can be worked together. But no more than 3 should be worked per workout session. This induces muscle hypertrophy (growth). There are other factors behind muscle growth other than just working out to stimulate them. In order to maximize your session in the gym, nutrition must be taken into account.

In order to induce anabolism (building of muscle, a.k.a. bodybuilding agent) and fight catabolism (breaking down of muscle), I must master nutrition. Mastering nutrition allows me to harness my body’s own potential and use it to accomplish my goal. Protein recommendations range from 2g/kg of body weight to 3g/kg of body weight. The lower level of protein intake is for weight lifters and the upper level is for when the “training load is extremely high” (Zatsiorsky,74). This means a person who weighs 200lbs needs to intake at least 181g of protein and at most 273 g. The protein intake for a strength athlete could also range between 1.4 to 1.8g/ kg of body weight (Pasquale, 77). Post workout conditions are different than pre-workout conditions. A mixture of 1.06g/kg of body weight for carbohydrates and .41g/ kg of body weight for protein has been shown to raise insulin and growth hormone levels, both are anabolic. The mixture is recommended immediately following exercise and two hours after exercise (Pasquale, 42). For the same 200 lb. athlete this means 96.5g of carbs and 37.3g of protein. The window after a workout is the most important because it is the time in which nutrients are more readily absorbed. An “increase in amino acid transport above basal (resting) were 30% to 100% greater after exercise” (Pasquale, 10).

For bodybuilders, like myself, it is also important to understand the hormones involved in building (anabolic) and destroying (catabolic) muscle. Anabolic hormones are Testosterone, Growth Hormone, Insulin and IGF-1(Insulin like Growth Factor -1). Growth Hormone is a powerful hormone. It can resist against a catabolic state and build muscle and block the use of glucose and use fat as a source of energy. “The GH response to exercise is workload dependent” and “the secretion of GH varies according to the muscle group that is exerted, with smaller muscle groups leading to increased GH release” (Pasquale, 15). This explains why when working heavier I see better results and why when I work a smaller group, such as my biceps and triceps they burn more than my chest. Several amino acids, including arginine, tyrosine and ornithine, have an effect on the release of growth hormone. The amino acids help the release of growth hormone  (Pasquale, 17).

Testosterone is a hormone that is fickle. Testosterone in excessive amounts, which can occur if steroids are used, can aromatize and turn into estrogen . However that is not always the case, in a study men were given supra physiological (extremely high) doses of Testosterone Enanthate (anabolic steroid) at 600mg per week for ten weeks. The normal is around 300mg per week. These doses increased muscle mass and strength. In this study the men were given an anti-estrogen to prevent conversion to estrogen and to prevent estrogen side effects, such as water retention. Even in training, if you workout between 30 and 60 minutes then levels might increase, but a session lasting longer than two hours twice a day can decrease testosterone levels. This would put your body closer to a catabolic state. Testosterone also seems to have an anticatabolic effect as well (Pasquale, 30-1).

Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1, or IGF-1, is involved in growth and protein synthesis. As the name implies, it acts like both growth hormone and Insulin. IGF-1 does this by being anabolic and anti-catabolic. In a study done with Insulin, amino acids and IGF-1, it has been found that IGF-1and amino acids alone does not stimulate muscle growth, all three must be present to produce anabolism. This means that IGF-1 has a limited role in anabolism and can only be an effective supplement. However it has also been found that Growth Hormone and IFG-1 can produce an anabolic state, but only slightly (Pasquale, 18-21).

The job of insulin is to control the glucose levels in our blood. Insulin is like a subway, it shuttles nutrients to tissue. The nutrients could be carbohydrates, proteins, fats or sugars (Pasquale, 23). The importance of insulin is to use it to shuttle nutrients to our muscle directly post workout. How we do this is simple, we use simple sugars. Sugars like glucose and fructose. We can open up this pathway by ingesting simple carbohydrates. This is done through the consumption of about 1g/kg of body weight for carbohydrates. The insulin spike when we ingest the carbohydrates opens the pathway to allow the amino acids, decomposed from the protein ingested in the post workout shake, to go directly to your muscles to begin the building process again. The insulin spike also helps to control glucagon, insulin’s catabolic twin designed to increase blood sugar by breaking down muscle (the bad guy). The spike in insulin also helps to promote replenishment of glycogen. Glycogen is a storage facility for energy, the faster it can be replenished, the faster you can begin to go into an anabolic state (Pasquale, 22-5).

Catabolic Hormones such as glucagon and cortisol produce energy when energy intake is low by breaking down proteins in the muscle and producing amino acids. The amino acids are then converted into energy by gluconeogenesis, producing glucose (Wardlaw, 126-7). The purpose of glucagon is to increase blood sugar levels by gluconeogenesis, which is catabolic (Wardlaw, 172-3). Glucagon also blocks protein synthesis (Pasquale,).

Cortisol is a necessary evil because it diverts glucose to the brain, instead of allowing it to go to the muscle. Cortisol is also involved in the stimulation of gluconeogenesis (Pasquale, 37). Gluconeogenesis breaks down the amino acids in our muscle and converts it to energy. Thus eating muscle, which is bad. Cortisol can be controlled through the use of isoflavones. Isoflavones were discovered by a Hungarian company. The company found that it increases protein synthesis, increased use of oxygen and reduced body fat

Amino acids hold the key to unlocking the ultimate potential of our bodies. Arginine, as previously mentioned, helps to release of insulin and GH. Arginine has also been shown to increase nitrogen retention, resulting a positive nitrogen balance . A positive nitrogen balance results in the body being more able to grow. Lysine “is responsible for the regulation of blood sugar levels, the growth and repair of tissues in skin, bones and of course skeletal muscles  Lysine’s use is the “utmost importance to growth and development”. Lysine is great because it acts like IGF-1, in that it is both anabolic and anti-catabolic. It prevents overtraining and promotes a positive nitrogen balance . Recommendations for the Amino acids are as follows: ornithine- about 170 mg/ kg of body weight state(Pasquale, 149)
Arginine and Lysine - about 1500mg (Pasquale, 128).

BCAA’s or Branch Chain Amino Acids are extremely helpful in the recovery process. “BCAA administration before exercise affects the response of some hormones mainly growth hormone, insulin and testosterone.” (Pasquale, 107). BCAA’s are composed of three amino acids, which are Leucine, Valine and Isoleucine. Of the three, Leucine is one of the most important because of it’s affect on anabolic hormones (Pasquale,108) and specifically it’s link to Human Growth Hormone. “It is believed that a 2-1-2 equilibrium in Leucine/Isoleucine/Valine dosing yields the best results.”

So what is the perfect post workout shake? It all depends on your body weight. My personal recommendations for ingredients in a shake are as follows: protein, amino acids (which include BCAA’s, Glutamine and free amino acids), creatine ( either monohydrate or the new ester type version, I have heard that the new ester type is more effective), some type of Methoxyisoflavone product to lower the cortisol levels and of course some type of simple carbohydrate. The carbohydrate can be either glucose or maltodextrin. Maltodextrin can be purchased at any health food store and glucose is sugar, yes the same stuff that mommy said would rot your teeth. Now by this time I’m sure your wondering why I threw creatine into the mix. Simple, creatine is extremely helpful in allowing your body to increase the production of ATP (chemical form of energy). Creatine is just there for recovery purposes. So what do all these products do? The carbohydrate helps to spike your insulin levels. Insulin as we remember shuttles nutrients to the muscle. Now the free amino acids are faster absorbed that even the protein drink, because they do not have to be broken down. This is immediately shuttled to your muscles via the insulin. The protein acts as a timed release after the initial release of the amino acids. The protein I recommend is a whey hyrdolysate. This form of whey is the most concentrated and the quickest to break down as compared to the whey concentrate and isolate.

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