The best workouts can be sustained only when you’re able to recuperate. The late Mike Mentzer used to say, “Training intensity is like sunbathing—you can only train to the extent your body can recuperate. Training too hard without recuperation is like getting a third-degree sunburn!”
In fact, one of the reasons Hall of Fame body-builder and CEO Rich Gaspari started his product line was that, when he was competing, he never had the supplement technology to support his insane training intensity (FLEX ranked Gaspari one of the top 10 hardest-working bodybuilders of all time).
To adequately refuel your body and prepare it for your next workout, you need to consider pre-, intra-, and post-workout supplements.
The repair process starts immediately after your last set is completed, but taking aminos pre-exercise is like putting on sunblock before going into the sun—it’s protecting your muscles before the damage begins.
For example, a study carried out at the University of Guelph, in Canada, examined the impact of BCAAs taken before exercise. Two test groups of athletes exercised their quadriceps muscles continuously for 60 minutes. One test group ingested 77 mg of BCAAs per kilogram of body weight, and the other received a placebo. Researchers found that the group that received the pre-workout BCAA supplementation had reduced quadriceps-muscle protein-degradation after exercise. In other words, BCAAs taken before resistance exercise may lead to a lower requirement for muscle repair from strenuous exertion.
Furthermore, cortisol response is lower when BCAAs are supplemented during exercise. Because there is less muscle breakdown during workouts, endurance capacity is greater, and muscle damage post-exercise is reduced. Therefore, recovery occurs more quickly when you consume BCAAs before training.
Most bodybuilders slam a protein or an amino acid drink down and then train—but what about during the workout? Flex Lewis sometimes trains more than two hours, so without the proper intra-workout drink, by the end of his workout he’s running on fumes. Mixing a BCAA/carbohydrate drink can keep you anabolic during those long workouts. One research study found that when subjects consumed a beverage that was 6% carbohydrate-based with 6g of essential amino acids, they had greater gains in muscle hypertrophy. After 12 weeks, the group drinking the EAA/ carbohydrate beverage had greater increases in muscle mass than the control group.
The other exciting aspect of drinking intra-workout carbohydrates is that it lowers cortisol during exercise. Subjects who supplemented intra-workout decreased serum levels by 23% compared to subjects who drank just water.
After a workout, your muscles are hungry for nutrients to repair muscle damage—they’re like super-absorbent sponges. That’s why you want to consume a post-exercise whey protein blend. Whey protein taken immediately post-exercise has been clinically proven to enhance muscle recuperation. In a recent double-blind, placebo-controlled study following weight training, participants were randomized into two groups: carbohydrates only, and whey protein-carbohydrates only. Participants consumed 1.5 g/kg.bw/ day supplement (~30g consumed with breakfast, lunch, in the afternoon, after the evening meal, and immediately after exercise) for a period of 14 days following eccentric contraction-based resistance exercise sessions consisting of four sets of 10 repetitions at 120% of maximum voluntary contraction on the leg press, leg extension, and leg flexion machine.
The researchers found that the subjects consuming whey protein isolate supplementation elicited improved muscle strength in the days following contraction-induced eccentric muscle damage. The whey protein group also had fewer markers of muscle damage, which may be due to not only the potent antioxidant abilities of whey protein, but also the higher leucine and branched chain amino acid content of whey (which may enhance muscle recuperation as well).
Bonus recuperation: Sleep is your body’s longest daily period of time in a fasting state, so a high-quality protein blend before sleep is essential. In a recent study, 16 young men worked out at 8 p.m. then immediately ate a meal of protein and carbs. Thirty minutes before their midnight bedtime, they received either a casein protein shake or a control drink. During the night, the protein from the casein protein shake increased protein synthesis (which helps repair muscles) by 22% over those who did not supplement with the protein drink.