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Most active individuals know that post exercise snacks and supplements are extremely important for muscle recovery and repair. In terms if sports physiology, following a workout, the body is in a catabolic (“break down”) mode. The right stimuli can convert this to an anabolic (“build up”) mode. Therefore, providing the right nutrients at this stage will enhance this anabolic process. In other words, the body needs specific nutrients after workout sessions in order to recover and that is the prime time for their absorption. Post exercise supplements are designed to help muscles recover more quickly from gym sessions. In this week’s article find out which are the most effective supplements, how they work, and who will benefit the most.

  • Post-exercise carbohydrate and protein

There is no doubt that effective post-exercise supplements are vital to recovery and training adaptations. Ingesting carbohydrate and protein following exercise enhances carbohydrate storage and protein synthesis. Theoretically, ingesting carbohydrate and protein following exercise may lead to greater training adaptations. Recent studies show that protein and carbohydrate supplementation post workout was successful in supporting the post exercise anabolic response, in other words, the body’s rebuilding process after each workout. However, there is need for further investigation as it is still unclear if there are direct effects of protein and carbohydrate supplementation on other markers of performance such as time to exhaustion, maximal oxygen uptake and others.

A solid and effective post-exercise supplements should have a ratio of carbohydrates to protein from 2:1 up to 4:1. Of course this depends on individual needs and preferences. As for what kind of carbohydrates are the most suitable, opt for higher quality sources found either in your effective post-exercise supplements or a fruit juice, honey, or chocolate milk. In the absence of your ideal shake, you can always improvise and go with chocolate milk. It will work just fine and save you some money!

  • Creatine monohydrate

According to the ISSN review, creatine monohydrate is the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement currently available in terms of increasing muscle mass and high-intensity exercise capacity. Additionally, creatine supplementation apart from being completely safe, it may also be beneficial for preventing injury. At present, creatine monohydrate it is the most extensively studied and effective form of creatine used in nutritional supplements. Interestingly, adding of carbohydrate or carbohydrate plus protein to a creatine supplement can increase further the muscular build up. Just to put the theory into numbers, the quickest method of increasing muscle creatine stores is to consume about 0.3 grams/kg/ day of creatine monohydrate for at least 3 days followed by 3-5 g/day thereafter to maintain the elevated stores.

  • Protein

According to research people undergoing intense training may need additional protein in their diet to meet protein needs (on average 1.4 – 2.0 grams/day). Low dietary protein intake can cause slower recovery and inhibit training adaptations. Protein supplements are maybe the most convenient means to ensure that protein needs are met. Keep in mind, however, that ingesting additional protein beyond the necessary amount to meet protein daily needs does not lead to additional gains in strength and muscle mass. According to the position of the ISSN, exercising individuals need approximately 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day, which is greater than the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for sedentary individuals. Furthermore, the addition of protein and or BCAA (Branch chained amino acids) before or after resistance training can increase protein synthesis and gains in lean muscle mass. If the supplement also contains other nutrients like creatine monohydrate the beneficial effects will be even greater.

  • Essential Amino Acids (EAA)

According to the latest research studies, ingesting 3-6 g of EAA following exercise stimulates protein synthesis and therefore it may enhance gains in muscle mass during training. Studies also report that ingesting EAA with carbohydrate immediately following resistance exercise can lead to significantly greater training adaptations as compared to consuming the supplement later. Because EAA’s include BCAA’s, it is probable that positive effects on protein synthesis from EAA ingestion are likely due to the BCAA content. BCAAs are the key amino acids that stimulate protein synthesis and have been shown to acutely stimulate protein synthesis, delaying the onset of fatigue, aid in glycogen resynthesis and maintaining mental function in aerobic exercise.
While there is good theoretical rationale, it is currently unclear whether following EAAs supplementation would lead to greater training adaptations than simply ingesting carbohydrate and a quality protein following exercise.

  • Weight Gain Powders

One of the most common methods used to increase muscle mass is adding extra calories to the diet. This method of “bulk up” is done by consuming extra food and weight gain powders. In order to increase skeletal muscle mass, there must be adequate energy intake and according to studies have simply adding an extra 500 – 1,000 calories per day to your diet combined with regular resistance training can promote weight gain. However, the main drawback of this method is that only 30 – 50% of the weight gained will be muscle and the remaining amount of weight gained will be fat. Therefore, a high calorie diet can help build muscle but keep in mind that there will be an accompanying increase in body fat.

  • b-hydroxy b-methylbutyrate (HMB)

HMB is a metabolite of the amino acid leucine. Leucine and its metabolites have been shown to significantly reduce protein degradation. Supplementing the diet with 1.5 to 3 g per day of calcium HMB during or after training can increase muscle mass and strength, and also reduce the catabolic effects of prolonged exercise, although this is mostly the case among untrained subjects. Gains in muscle mass are typically 0.5 to 1 kg greater when using HMB after 3 – 6 weeks of training. So, there is good evidence showing that HMB may enhance training adaptations in individuals initiating training, and adding creating can enhance the muscle gain effect. However, additional research is necessary to determine HMB effect on trained athletes.

Effective post-exercise supplements are critical to maximizing your gains in the gym and promoting recovery. If you are serious about getting the most out of your workouts you should ask advice from a health & fitness professional who will help you pick a formula that meets your needs, and follow it for at least 4 weeks to see whether it really works. And always keep in mind that no supplement should be used as a replacement for a healthy and balanced diet.

By Kleio Bathrellou
Associate Nutritionist & ISSN Certified Sports Nutritionist

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