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Sports Nutrition

Refuel and Recover: Part 2

Your post-exercise anabolic window opens immediately after a training session and lasts for several hours thereafter. During this time, it’s imperative to strategize your supplement dosing/timing to exploit and bolster protein synthesis and muscle recovery. In this second installment of our postworkout supplementation series, we examine five key supplements and provide dosing recommendations that will help you maximize muscular growth and minimize recovery time.

1) Creatine

What is it? Synthesized in the liver from arginine, methionine and glycine and found in high concentrations in meat and fish, creatine is the ideal supplement for strength and power athletes. Creatine supplements have stood the test of time through a quarter-century of clinical testing in the lab and field testing in gyms around the world. Creatine plays a fundamental role in energy production during exercise by forming the ATP needed for muscle contractions. Post-exercise, it acts as an anabolic activator to promote protein synthesis and recovery. 

How does it help you refuel and recover? From a refueling perspective, taking creatine after training helps to quickly restore muscle creatine to preworkout levels so you can be “locked and loaded” for the next exercise session. Beyond refueling, loading your muscles with creatine after training drives water into those cells, promoting cell volumization (aka the much-sought-after “pump”). The pump not only makes creatine-loaded muscles appear larger, but the “stretching” that muscle cells undergo turns on anabolism and protein synthesis — resulting in increased growth.

Additionally, a study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism showed that creatine supplementation increases levels of growth-promoting insulin-like growth factor-1 in resistance-trained muscle — setting up an environment that boosts protein synthesis, recovery and growth. In addition, a study published in Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology illustrated that subjects who weight-trained while using creatine had twice the reduction in postworkout myostatin as those training with a placebo. Myostatin is a protein that acts as a muscle-growth inhibitor; when there’s less of it around, more muscle growth is possible. 

Dose:Although creatine monohydrate dosing is bodyweight and tolerance dependent, a good starting point is to first complete a loading phase of 5 grams four to six times per day for a week. After a week, take 5 grams 30 minutes before and immediately after training. On rest days, take 5 grams with breakfast and 5 grams later in the day.

2) Beta-Alanine 

What is it? Beta-alanine is a non-proteinogenic amino acid, meaning that it’s not involved in synthesizing proteins.In muscle, beta-alanine and histidine form the dipeptide carnosine, and how much beta-alanine is present determines how much carnosine is produced. As such, excess beta-alanine in the body (i.e., because you’re supplementing with it) can lead to elevated carnosine levels in muscle tissue. And that’s a good thing.

How does it help you refuel?As described in our preworkout supplement series several months back, beta-alanine’s major effects are noticed during workouts. It promotes increased muscle performance during high-intensity exercise. However, it’s also important to use beta-alanine postworkout to refuel your body and keep muscle carnosine elevated for subsequent training sessions. The postworkout period is ideal for refueling because the body experiences enhanced absorption of nutrients during this time.

Dose: Take 2 to 3 grams of beta-alanine immediately after intense training. 

3) Betaine

What is it? Also known as trimethylglycine or TMG, betaine was first discovered in the juice of sugar beets (Beta vulgaris) in the 19th century. It’s a derivative of the amino acid glycine and is also found in foods like wheat, spinach and shellfish. The principal physiologic role of betaine is as an osmolyte and methyl donor (transmethylation). More on this below. 

How does it help you refuel and recover? Most of betaine’s benefits can be attributed to its function as a methyl donor. By donating a methyl molecule to the protein homocysteine, betaine converts it into methionine, an amino acid that is involved in creatine production and boosts protein synthesis for greater muscular gains. We recommend taking betaine before workouts for its strength-enhancing effects, but we also advise taking it after training to refuel the body and boost protein synthesis. As a bonus, supplementing betaine also keeps the body’s homocysteine levels down. This is significant because homocysteine levels can be elevated with high-protein diets and are linked to poor cardiovascular health. 

Dose:Studies show that as little as 2.5 grams of betaine per day can be effective, but some people work up to a maximum of 6 grams daily. We recommend that you split the dose and take one 30 to 90 minutes before training (or first thing in the morning on rest days) and another postworkout (or right before bed on rest days).

4) L-Carnitine L-Tartrate

What is it? Carnitine is a compound synthesized by the liver and kidneys from the amino acids methionine and lysine. The blend of L-carnitine and L-tartrate produces a highly stable and bioavailable form of carnitine.

How does it help you refuel and recover?From a postworkout perspective, LCLT has been shown to improve recovery and regeneration in trained muscle. Research published in the American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism showed that LCLT supplementation boosts recovery from high-repetition squat exercise. One possible mechanism is that carnitine boosts nitric-oxide levels, supporting increased blood flow, nutrient delivery and metabolic-waste removal in trained muscles. LCLT also has been shown to boost the anabolic hormonal response to exercise. A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reported that 21 days of LCLT supplementation increased the number of testosterone receptors in skeletal muscle and augmented secretion of luteinizing hormone (a hormone that triggers testosterone production) in resistance-trained men. This is great news because testosterone builds muscle by binding to testosterone receptors, which leads to increased protein synthesis.

Dose:Take 2 grams immediately after training. 

5) Taurine 

What is it? The name taurine is derived from the Latin word Taurus (meaning ox) because it was first extracted from ox bile, but today it’s made synthetically. Taurine is a conditionally essential amino-acid derivative of the amino acid cysteine. It’s considered conditionally essential because it’s depleted under conditions of heavy physical stress (e.g., during training). Next to glutamine, taurine is the second most abundant amino acid found in skeletal muscle, especially in fast-twitch muscle fibers.

How does it help you refuel and recover?Intense exercise rapidly depletes taurine, so it makes sense to refuel it immediately after training. There are a number of reasons that you don’t want to keep your muscles in a taurine-depleted state. First, as explained in a 2009 article in Physiological Reviews, taurine optimizes water levels in cells and maximizes muscle function. Thus, like creatine, taurine has been implicated to be a potent cell volumizer. This not only makes the muscle belly appear fuller (the pump!), but it also provides an indirect stimulus for muscle growth.

Second, taurine helps prevent muscle breakdown, having been found in a study to decrease levels of a catabolic compound by 20 percent after intense treadmill running. In the same study, post-exercise urinary excretion of creatinine and creatine were significantly reduced with taurine supplementation, which is a sign that the amino blunts the breakdown of muscle.

Third, taurine is a powerful antioxidant and membrane-stabilizing agent. Exercise stress destabilizes and damages muscle cells through a number of different mechanisms, including oxidative stress, but the antioxidant properties of taurine can negate these effects. Based on taurine’s protective properties, research has shown that this supplement can defend against exercise-induced muscle damage and thereby speed recovery.

Dose:Take 1 to 5 grams immediately after training.