Muscle & Fitness Store: Recovery Primer

Dr. Jim Stoppani explains the importance of post-workout supplementation and your options in post-workout supplements.

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Muscle & Fitness Store: Recovery Primer

We all want massive muscle growth and strength gains, but there’s more to the process than all those gut-busting, vein-popping workouts you’re doing all the time. What those workouts actually do is break down muscle tissue and make you weaker. To really build muscle and strength, it’s recovering from these balls-to-the-wall sessions that’s important—and when it comes to recovery, there’s no better time to start than immediately after you’ve completed the last rep of your last set.

Research has concluded that the first 45 minutes after a workout are the most critical period for refueling your muscles with the nutrients they need to recover. If you miss this window by not consuming what your muscles need, you’re compromising your ability to recover and make gains. 

 

Don’t be that guy who perpetually misses his recovery window and fails to ever make any real progress. Use our recovery guide to learn which six nutrients are essential after every workout, then check out our Recovery Supplements Buyer’s Guide for the best products on the market.

 

PROTEIN

It should come as no surprise that protein is at the very top of our list. After all, muscle is made of protein, so to build more muscle protein, you need to consume more protein at the right time—right after your workouts. If you think this entails eating a chicken breast or eggs, however, you’re wrong. Whole-food protein sources take too long to digest to be as effective as protein powders during this window.

 

After workouts, you need a fast-digesting protein like whey. Research shows that whey can get its amino acids to your muscles in under 30 minutes, which boosts muscle protein synthesis—the means by which your muscles recover and grow bigger and stronger. Whey isn’t the only protein you should be taking, though. Adding a slow-digesting protein like casein to your post-workout shake keeps muscle protein synthesis cranked up for several hours after your workouts are over. Research confirms that this leads to far greater gains in muscle growth than taking a fast-digesting protein alone.

 

CARBOHYDRATES

Glycogen, the form of carbs stored in muscle fibers and the liver, provides fuel during workouts. Intense training depletes its levels, further impairing muscle recovery and growth—which is why you need a dose of fast-digesting carbs right after workouts. Carbs like dextrose, glucose, maltodextrin, and certain high-molecular-weight waxy maize supplements will get to your muscles within minutes, restocking your glycogen levels so your post-workout recovery and growth continue uncompromised.

 

These fast-digesting carbs will also send insulin levels through the roof, which is a good thing in this case. Insulin will drive more carbs, amino acids, and creatine into your muscles. It’ll also kick-start muscle protein synthesis, which further enhances recovery and growth. Glycogen also pulls water into muscle cells, causing them to swell and keeping them fuller and larger. With greater fluid volume inside muscles, 

cell membranes stretch, signaling the muscle to build more protein and 

grow bigger permanently.

 

CREATINE

Studies confirm that creatine, the most effective supplement you can use for boosting muscle size and strength, can help you gain more than 10 pounds of lean mass, with sizable strength increases, in just a few weeks. What you may not realize is that creatine is an energy-producing molecule that’s vital for muscle contractions, helping to produce the rapid energy muscles need during workouts to maintain their strength.

 

Creatine has also been shown to boost muscle growth by increasing levels of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) and by blunting the production of the muscle-growth-inhibiting protein myostatin. The more IGF-I you have—and the less myostatin—the more muscle growth you can expect. Supplement with creatine immediately after workouts, when your levels are most depleted. And since creatine depends on insulin for uptake into muscle cells, it’s especially effective to take creatine after workouts along with fast-digesting proteins and carbs, which will ramp up insulin levels and push more creatine into muscle cells.

 

BRANCHED-CHAIN AMINO ACIDS (BCAAS)

These amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—are the most important aminos for muscle development, performing specific functions to aid that growth. 

 

Of the three, leucine is the real player. Research has shown that leucine acts like a key in the ignition to start muscle protein synthesis. This is one important reason why the body needs a dose of BCAAs immediately after workouts.

 

BCAAs also blunt cortisol levels post-workout. When you finish a tough session, your body is flooded with a cascade of hormones. Some of these, like testosterone, are anabolic and encourage muscle growth. Others, like cortisol, are catabolic and encourage muscle breakdown. Cortisol also interferes with testosterone, lowering its levels and its ability to drive muscle growth. The goal after workouts is to maximize testosterone levels and minimize cortisol levels, and when added to your post-workout shake, BCAAs do just that.

 

GLUTAMINE

Glutamine is important after workouts because it aids in glycogen recovery by helping more of the carbs you’re consuming get stored as glycogen in muscle fibers. It’ll also boost your growth hormone (GH) levels, encouraging greater muscle growth and strength gains. 

 

Tough workouts can compromise your immune system, too, making you more susceptible to colds and other minor illnesses. A dose of glutamine will keep your immune system in peak condition and prevent you from getting sick and missing workouts.

 

ANTIOXIDANTS

During intense exercise, free radicals are produced from the conversion of carbs, fat, and protein into energy. Free radicals are your muscle fibers’ nemeses. These altered molecules tear through your body like microscopic chainsaws, damaging cells and severely compromising recovery. 

 

Luckily, there are numerous antioxidants you can take after workouts to neutralize free radicals and stop their destruction. Two of the most effective are vitamins C and E. Polyphenols from tea and anthocyanins from fruits and vegetables also perform well in this capacity, saving muscle tissue and maximizing recovery and growth.

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