Exercise is a stimulus that causes muscle breakdown, but it also initiates a number of processes that help to repair and rebuild this damage. First and foremost, it initiates an anabolic hormonal cascade that primes our bodies for the repair process.
One of the more important hormonal responses is an increase in insulin production immediately after exercise, as it makes our bodies more efficient at refilling muscle cells with glycogen and transporting amino acids to damaged muscle tissue, which allows the repair process to get underway. This period of time immediately following exercise is therefore commonly referred to as the “anabolic window of opportunity”.
BEFORE AND DURING
New research suggests that similar anabolic benefits can be derived from the ingestion of protein before and during a workout, and supplements tend to offer the most bio-available form of this vital macronutrient.
Pre-workout supplements that aid recovery
1. Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Isoleucine, leucine and valine – the BCAAs – are important for the assimilation, maintenance and repair of muscle tissue. They need to be consumed in supplemental form because the body is unable to synthesise them. BCAAs are vital substrates for other amino acids, which are released in large quantities during intense exercise. Furthermore, BCAAs are used directly for fuel by muscles, which stops the catabolism of muscle tissue. Research indicates that BCAAs taken before intense training spares muscle reserves during exercise, thereby enhancing physical performance. BCAAs also restrict cortisol release during exercise and may help ease delayed-onset muscle soreness after weight training.
2. Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs)
MCTs are a form of energy-dense dietary fat that is rapidly digested and assimilated, offering a readily available fuel source for muscles during training. This prevents muscle catabolism as muscles will utilise MCTs for fuel rather than metabolism tissue to derive amino acids.
Intra-workout supplements that aid recovery
Refuels muscle glycogen 70% faster than any sugar, and it passes through the gastrointestinal tract 80% faster than sugar. This rapidly available energy source leverages the highly insulin-sensitive environment created during exercise to fuel workouts and limit catabolism. Vitargo also boosts insulin response, which makes the muscle cells more permeable and receptive to amino acids.
Most intra-workout products available today contain BCAAs and other essential free-form or peptide-form amino acids as these are the simplest, most rapidly usable components of protein. Free form amino acids supplements do not require any digestion and are free of chemical bonds to other molecules. This means that they can move quickly through the stomach and into the small intestine, where they are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.
A supplement ingested during the period immediately following exercise is also an effective means to halt the catabolism caused by exercise, while also promoting greater anabolism. As such, skipping a supplement after a workout is a sure-fire way to lose muscle and prolong the inflammation caused by exercise, which can increase the damage to tissue and extend recovery time.
Post-workout supplements to boost recovery
1. Whey Protein
These products supply a fast-digesting protein with a biological value (BV) greater than 100. This means that it is one of the most efficiently useable forms of protein available today, as it is rapidly digested, absorbed and assimilated. This high bioavailability means that whey can rapidly deliver amino acids to muscle cells after a workout so that your body can halt the catabolic processes that occur after intense weight training and fuel the repair and recovery process. Whey also contains numerous beneficial compounds that include growth factors and a fair amount of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA).
Glutamine stimulates the activity of certain immune cells, which play a central role in the recovery process. However, after exercise our bodies experience a slight fall in circulating glutamine levels. So, without proper glutamine replenishment, this process can be sub-optimal. Studies have also shown that many immune cells have an unusually high capacity to utilise glutamine, but are unable to synthesise it in its original state. They therefore require a constant supply from the blood. As BCAAs work in the body to provide a substrate for glutamine production, supplementing with whey – a rich source of BCAAs – in addition to glutamine, provides further anti-catabolic and recovery-boosting support.
The findings of clinical study published in 2012 entitled “Effect of Protein Blend vs. Whey Protein Ingestion on Muscle Protein Synthesis Following Resistance Exercise” suggest that a protein supplement blend of soy, whey and casein may be the best post-workout shake for building muscle. Specifically, the blend of proteins in this study showed an increase in anabolism when consumed during the important post-workout “anabolic window” as it provided a prolonged positive net balance of amino acids in the muscle.