Supplements for Recovery and Muscle Growth:
How do our muscles work?
The process of building muscle has to do with breaking a muscle down, then re-feeding it properly for it to maximally function and maximally grow. There is a multitude of misinformation available with some advice that can be downright dangerous so it’s important to understand some of the basic components of nutrition in order to best feed and then re- feed or grow your muscles.
Our bodies are composed of water, fat and muscle. Our bodies contain 3 basic types of muscle: heart, smooth and skeletal. Heart and smooth muscle (such as that found in our gastrointestinal tracts) are known as involuntary muscles, meaning we can’t control how they move. Skeletal muscle, on the other hand, is also known as striated or voluntary which can be contracted on command, such as those in fast or slow twitch muscle fibers. Muscle growth is actually a very complex process that involves the use by our bodies of certain hormones, such as growth hormone and testosterone. In addition, there are many building blocks that are important for the maximum creation of muscle bulk and mass.
After you workout, your body repairs or replaces the damaged muscle fibers to form new muscle fibers called myofibrils. Muscle growth occurs when the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle breakdown. The response of muscle growth to a workout of your muscles only lasts for about 24-48 hours, which is why it is so important to make sure you have proper nutrition before you tax your muscles and then immediately after your workout. Over the course of several weeks of this process and by gradually increase the load on the muscle, growth can occur thus enhancing muscle bulk.
So what are the building blocks of muscle tissue?
Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle which our body then uses to repair and rebuild. We generally need about 30-40 grams of protein with each meal if we are trying to maximize muscle growth.
A concept known as nutrient timing–what you eat before, during, and after your workouts is extremely important in maximizing your results. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, build muscle, or train for a specific sport you need to feed your body the right nutrients in the right amounts at the right time. What you eat before prepares your body for your workout, what you eat during (if appropriate) enhances the session itself, and what you take in afterward maximizes the work completed while preparing your body for the next session. The longer you wait to refuel, the less efficient the body becomes at putting these nutrients to work. You have an optimal window of time to take in carbohydrates and protein after each workout.
How to Refuel
Examples of quality post-workout recovery meals are a protein shake with fruit or tuna on whole-wheat toast. The amount of carbohydrates and protein you refuel with during your post-workout is dependent on a wide variety of factors, including the specific workout itself, your weight, training schedule, goals, and more, but consuming 20-40 grams of good high quality complete protein within the metabolic window will reap huge rewards for most.
In life and in fitness, consistency is one of the main secrets to success. You can’t work out once in a while and expect to see real results. The same holds true when it comes to your post-workout nutrition; it’s consistency over time that will bring about major changes. Feed your muscles what they need after every workout with the metabolic window, and you will be amazed at the body you’ll achieve.
What is a high quality complete protein?
This is where a lot of confusion exists so let’s try to set the record straight. Whey is the highest quality source of protein available due to its extremely high absorption rate in the body, favorable amino acid profile and various health promoting benefits. Whey is a fast-digesting milk protein that acts almost immediately to help deliver amino acids to the skeletal muscle. Anyone who is lactose intolerant knows the cramping and discomfort of trying to take everyday dairy shakes. Rather than suffering through GI distress, consider supplementing with a whey protein isolate, which contains a higher percentage of pure protein and can be virtually lactose-free. Complete proteins are known as those which contain all of the needed amino acids in the right amounts for our bodies to best use them. Consume 20-30 grams of whey protein at a time. It’s best used pre- and post-workout, but is also a convenient way to get in the necessary amount of protein when whole food is not an option. Never rely on shakes. While having a whey protein shake is ideal post-workout, at all other times in the day do your best to get in whole food sources.
Another common supplement that weight trainers and bodybuilders turn to are branched-chained amino acids (BCAAs) to improve workout results. Of the 20 amino acids in the body, three are referred to as BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These are the key amino acids that stimulate protein synthesis and help regulate protein metabolism. The body uses BCAAs to help muscles recover. Like a whey protein supplement, BCAAs drive nutrients to the muscle tissue, allowing for improved workout recovery. In the muscle, BCAAs serve as an energy source during exercise, so taking a supplement can help restore the same nutrients lost during intense exercise.
This supplement also reduces pain from muscle fatigue and improves metabolic recovery. There is also some measure of proof that BCAAs can help improve endurance by keeping muscles fueled—something that is of interest to long-distance workouts such as backpacking or long-distance running (marathons), distance swimming, or any other prolonged workout.
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance within our muscle cells, primarily around the skeletal muscle tissue where approximately 95 percent of the body’s creatine supply can be found. The remainder is stored throughout the rest of the body. The benefits of creatine supplementation include the promotion of lean body mass, increased muscle cell volume, faster post-workout recovery, increased glycogen storage and increased high-intensity muscle performance. Athletes typically prefer creatine when weight training and bodybuilding because of the rapid pace at which muscle mass is built. Likewise, for many it’s easy to stop taking creatine because it’s naturally produced by the body. When an athlete stops taking this supplement, the creatine levels in the body return to normal within 3-4 weeks. 5-10 grams at a time is recommended as well as to take half of your daily serving with your pre-workout meal and the second half of your daily serving with your post-workout shake. The full effects of creatine supplementation will be experienced after about 3 weeks of a daily 5 gram dosage.
There is another amino acid referred to as beta-alanine. This is a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid that comes into the body through foods that are rich in protein such as poultry. The performance enhancement in beta-alanine (BA) is due to its ability to increase intra-muscular levels of carnosine. This increase in beta-alanine through supplementation suggests carnosine levels are raised by over 60% in as quickly as four weeks. This is significant because during high-intensity exercise our bodies accumulate a large amount of hydrogen which causes our pH to drop (whereby we become more acidic). This acidification (lactic acid) can cause severe fatigue, decrease muscle performance, and shut down the neural drive which can force muscle failure. By maintaining increased levels of carnosine through BA supplementation, a bodybuilder is able to delay the accumulation of hydrogen and the resulting acidity which can, subsequently, delay muscle fatigue and failure. Additional benefits of beta-alanine supplementation include improved endurance, improved force output, delayed fatigue, improved repeated sprint ability. 2-6 grams per day, taken in smaller doses throughout the day is the general guideline.
Glutamine is another amino acid and is touted for its ability to slow muscle-tissue breakdown during intensive exercise which may improve strength thresholds and elevated endurance. Those weight training will find that they can lift heavier weights for longer periods and train more often. Pushing the limits of the muscles inspires the body to produce greater lean muscle to compensate. Glutamine also has a number of other benefits associated with taking it in supplement form:
Preservation of muscle tissue allows your body to burn additional fat; the more lean mass your body has the more effective your metabolism is. When training to lose weight, the body will also shed muscle mass, so it’s important to slow this muscle loss.
Glutamine has shown positive results with the improvement of the immune system in many who take this supplement. When you’re under intense training, it places stress not only on the muscles but on your entire immune system. Glutamine restores the health of the muscle tissue, and it feeds into the immune system as well, ensuring rapid recovery for the body as a whole.
Glutamine has been cited for its ability to enhance plasma growth hormone levels in the body. This is a major draw for those who want to focus on building muscle, as one study has suggested that just 2 grams of glutamine supplementation can increase growth hormone. A general guideline is to use 5 grams upon waking, 5 grams post-workout, and 5 grams before bed.
So that’s the line up on getting the most of your pre and post workout nutrition to build the most muscle fastest. Your work out goals will be reached with good nutrition, lots of water and lots of steady commitment. As always, before using any supplements, check with your doctor to make sure this program is right for you.
Until next time, here’s to the best of your health!!
Elizabeth Salada MD
Internal Medicine and Wellness