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There is a war going on, and it will never end. It’s a battle inside your body that determines how much muscle you build. on one side, you have muscle protein synthesis (MPS)—the process by which the body lays down new proteins to increase muscle mass. On the other side, there’s muscle protein breakdown (MPB), which occurs when the body sheds muscle protein. Both reactions are in conflict regularly, and the difference between the two (subtract muscle protein breakdown from muscle protein synthesis) is the amount of muscle you walk away with after all your hard training and disciplined eating. Maximizing MPS and minimizing MPB requires careful timing with the right foods and supplements. as a trainer and nutritionist to active clients of all kinds, including several IFBB pros and amateur bodybuilders, I’ve discovered that you can win the war for muscle protein synthesis using “periworkout” nutrition—consuming the proper nutrients immediately before, during, and after training.
|Periworkout Nutrition At A Glance
30 Grams Carbs (oats, cream of rice, sweet potato)
10 Grams Fat (butter, nut butter)
40-70 Grams Carbs (HBCD or Vitargo)
1-2 cups white or jasmine rice
Before training, you need to prime the body to build muscle (enhance MPS) while also giving it sufficient fuel to promote a workout intense enough to deliver a musclebuilding stimulus. As most performance nutritionists will tell you, a combination of protein and carbs is ideal for this. However, the ratio of each, the type of foods you choose, and the rate at which their nutrients are absorbed are all crucial. The meal should be eaten an hour before to allow you time to digest—any food left churning in your stomach can cause blood to be diverted from the muscles you’re training, harming your workout. (You may need to experiment with the timing—if you still feel like the meal hasn’t settled after an hour, wait longer before training and eat earlier before your next session.)
Allowing time to digest is one thing, but it’s still wise to avoid foods that are high in fat or fiber, or otherwise cause the digestive system to work too hard.
Protein in the form of a whey isolate shake, white fish, or a chicken breast is optimal. For carbs, the goal at this time is to spike energy, not insulin, so carb powders and white rice are not appropriate. Too many carbs of the high-glycemic variety can kill the fat-burning potential of your workout, and even leave you feeling downright sleepy when you get to the gym. Rather, slower-burning foods such as a bowl of oats or cream of rice are better choices. They’ll raise insulin slightly, protecting your muscles from excessive breakdown while preparing your body for an anabolic response post-training. As an extra insurance policy, I like to add a small amount of fat to my pre-workout meals as well.
A tablespoon of almond butter mixed into oatmeal slows down the digestion of the carbs a touch, going a step further in controlling blood-sugar levels. Aim for 40 grams of protein and 30 grams of carbs in your pre-workout meal, with another 10 grams of fat thrown in for good measure.
Since insulin is the body’s most anabolic hormone, you need to release it in greater amounts as your training gets underway. To raise insulin, you need to take in more nutrients, particularly carbs. But because you’re training, you obviously can’t stop for a meal—nor do you want a shake that’s going to bloat you or upset your stomach. The best carb source at this time is highly branched cyclic dextrin. HBCD empties from the stomach very quickly, so it gets into your bloodstream fast. At the same time, it provides a sustained release of insulin.
|What About Leucine?
One of the most talked-about supplements is the branched-chain amino acid leucine. not only is it an important component of protein, as are the other BCAAs, but research indicates that it acts independently as an anabolic signaler—it may actually “turn on” muscle growth by itself. I do not recommend it as a must because leucine is already present in casein hydrolysate, so if you’re using that as your protein, you’re already getting leucine.
On the protein front, you need something that spikes amino acid levels fast but is also easy to digest, and casein hydrolysates are effective for this. Hydrolyzed protein has already been broken down—“pre-digested,” to an extent—so your body can absorb it quickly and get it to your muscles when they need it most. When shopping for a hydrolysate, it’s important to get one that contains what it advertises. Many manufacturers offer powders where some of the protein is hydrolyzed, but not enough to justify it as an effective hydrolysate product. Try a powder that contains “PeptoPro” (you can find it at truenutrition.com). This is a very high-quality patented hydrolysate that you can trust. But beware, it’s bitter, so it will need to be flavored.
Mix yourself a shake with about 10–20 grams of protein from casein hydrolysate and 40–70 grams carbs from cyclic dextrin or Vitargo, another carb powder with a fast digestion rate. Use 1,000 ml of water to dilute it. I also like to add electrolytes, citrulline malate, and betaine to enhance my pump and digestion, but if you’re on a budget, this isn’t absolutely necessary. (Plazma, a product by Biotest, contains all of these ingredients.) A great stand-alone cyclic dextrin on the market now is GlycoFuse, made by Gaspari Nutrition.
Begin drinking the shake five to 10 minutes before training, but don’t drink more than a quarter of it. The goal is to preload the nutrients into your bloodstream so that when you start training the combination of mechanical tension from lifting and the insulin spike will drive the nutrition straight into the muscle cells. That’s right—in effect, every time you pump a rep, you’ll be pumping protein and carbs into the area you’re training. Continue drinking the mix evenly during your workout.
Start at the low end of the ranges I gave you for each nutrient amount, and work your way up gradually (add more water, too). For the sake of price (good supplements are costly) and getting the best results from the minimal eff ective dose, you don’t need to overload on supplements at the start. If you’re taking enough, you’ll notice a significant reduction in the amount of soreness you feel after workouts.
When your intra-workout nutrition is on point, there’s no need to guzzle another shake. MPB has been limited and MPS has been greenlit. At this point, your only obligation is to eat a healthy meal when you get home, within about two hours. One of my favorites is steak and jasmine rice. You could also have fish, chicken, or turkey along with rice for carbs. Start with six ounces of meat (cooked) and one cup of rice.
Over time, work up to eight ounces of meat and two cups of rice. The point of this isn’t so much to increase caloric intake as it is to maximize timing. When you pack more of your day’s nutrition closer to workout time, its uptake for muscle growth is greatly improved.
As I mentioned above, the more precise your periworkout nutrition becomes, the less sore you’ll be between training sessions. You may even get to the point where you never feel soreness again. I know, it sounds too good to be true, but even the most brutal workouts (my own high-level “Mountain Dog” bodybuilding routines included) won’t leave you wrecked for days anymore. Managing the conflict between MPS and MPB means making your body an efficient musclebuilding machine that won’t break down.