You’ve just finished a long gym workout – what do you select as part of your post workout nutrition to begin to replenish those depleted energy stores? Do you go for a protein, carbohydrate, a combination of the two or absolutely nothing? Is your choice based on scientific research and investigative findings or simply the first thing you can get your hands on?
Post workout nutrition is extremely important following an intense and enduring session. One of the main reasons for this is because muscle glycogen, your primary fuel source during medium to high intensity exercise, can become severely depleted as a result of your exercise regime undertaken. Once stores are fully depleted, your ability to perform at a capacity that you are capable of is hampered until you replenish such stores (Ahlborg et al, 1967).
The faster you are able to replenish these muscle glycogen stores, the faster you and your body are able to fully recover in anticipation to do it all over again. If you partake in regular exercise which occurs on successive days or even back-to-back sessions on the same day, the importance of replenishing these bodily stores as soon as possible becomes paramount.
It is for this reason that the moment you cease exercise, the time period immediately proceeding takes on significant importance. This time frame is sometimes referred to as the “golden hour” or “window of opportunity” – and becomes your chance to take advantage.
Extensive research has been carried out into this post workout phase with emphasis on multiple key variables. Research investigations have considered the importance of optimal timing, frequency, nutritional amounts and nutritional types (Blom et al, 1987). It is the latter that is of particular interest and will capture the attention of this article.
Previous research has provided mixed findings as to the ideal type of nutrition to consume during this post workout window. Zawadzki et al. (1992) demonstrated through their independent research investigation that a combination of both protein and carbohydrates produced fuller muscle glycogen replenishment during a four hour post workout period when compared to carbohydrates alone.
These research findings however are not wholly supported. Jentjens et al. (2001) disputed this claim, arguing that the methodology utilised in the above study meant that the addition of protein in one of the study groups also enhanced the overall calorie intake for this sample. Consequently, they argued that it was in fact this additional calorie intake and not the presence of protein that produced such results.
Furthermore, it was hypothesised that had there been sufficient carbohydrates available during this research investigation that the presence of protein would have made absolutely no difference to an individual’s ability to replenish their muscle glycogen stores.
As with many research investigations into the area of sports science and nutrition, results are often criticised and disproved due to the lack of control over extraneous variables. Whilst tight control might be placed over the particular study area of interest, other areas are less controlled making any cause and effect relationship difficult to prove.
One research investigation which looked to eliminate such flaws was carried out by Ivy et al. (2002) and was aptly titled ‘early postexercise muscle glycogen recovery is enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement’.
For this investigation, seven male, trained cyclists were used as subjects. All subjects offered similar physical characteristics and exercise ability. During the experimental testing phases, subjects were required on three separate occasions, each spaced at least one month apart. On each occasion, the cyclists were initially required to partake in a two hour cycle, used to ensure muscle glycogen stores were depleted. Following exercise, subjects were provided with one of three nutritional supplements.
These three nutritional supplements were as follows: a carbohydrate and protein combination equalling 80g of carbohydrate, 28g protein and 6g fat, high carbohydrate equalling 108g carbohydrates and 6g fat and a low carbohydrate equalling 80g carbohydrates and 6g fat. Calories were identical in the first two nutritional supplements.
The purpose of these three variations was to cancel out any previous flaws noted within the experimental designs. Statistical measurements were taken at various stages post workout utilising numerous recognised sampling techniques from the subjects’ quadriceps region.
Results from this investigative research indicated that the carbohydrate and protein combination supplement yielded significantly greater muscle glycogen store at four hours post workout than the other two testing supplements. This echoed earlier findings produced by Zawadzki et al. (1992), discussed earlier within the article.
Furthermore, there were no significant differences reported between the high carbohydrate supplement and the low carbohydrate supplement.
From these investigative findings it is apparent that the use of both protein and carbohydrates within a post workout supplement will produce significant differences in your body’s ability to replenish muscle glycogen stores.
Research into the area of post workout nutrition is likely to raise just as many questions as it answers. Take this research for example, although it is apparent that the addition of protein to a carbohydrate supplement aids muscle glycogen replenishment, how much protein and carbohydrate is considered optimal? Do the ratios have to remain the same and will the further addition of either protein and/or carbohydrate yield alternative results?
Further questions can also be asked regarding the post workout testing time periods. Although this research demonstrated greater muscle glycogen replenish at four hours post workout, what would have happened at eight hours and twelve hours? Would the carbohydrate alone supplement have caught or even overtaken the carbohydrate and protein combination? The questions are plentiful whilst the answers remain limited.
So what can you take away from this article and apply to your post workout nutritional decisions? Primarily, after each intense workout you should contemplate consuming a combination of both protein and carbohydrates as soon as possible.
Remember, this nutrition doesn’t have to be state of the art and expensive either. There are post workout supplements out there which offer similar values to those utilised within the above research but don’t forget simple and straight forward post workout favourites such as unflavoured or chocolate milk.
As for the ratios of carbohydrates to protein, this is left for you to experiment with. Through a process of trial and error you should be able to work out what works for YOU and amalgamate a collection of post workout selections which you and your body will respond to.
As long as you remember to consume a combination of carbohydrates and protein as soon as practicable after an intense session then you’ll never go too far wrong.
For those looking for convenient post-workout supplements that have similar ratios to the above investigation, try some of the FashionBeans team favourite weight gainers and recovery supplements: