For a few hours after a heavy bout of training, the body undergoes noteworthy alterations in metabolic rate and protein synthesis. With a little well-thought-out supplementation/refueling, you can significantly boost and extend anabolism during this time, leading to faster recovery and greater muscular gains. Here, we look at four key supplements — and strategies — to help you refuel and recover quickly to get the most out of your training.
Sustained-Release Protein Blend
What is it? This is a supplement with a blend of high-biological-value proteins isolated from different sources with differing absorption rates. The best products contain fast-digesting whey protein isolate and/or whey hydrolysate, medium-digesting egg and milk isolates, and the slowest-digesting micellar casein protein. The result is a product that can rapidly replenish the amino acids lost during training while also providing a sustained source of blood amino acids (for up to eight hours).
How does it help you refuel and recover? Intense training leads to muscle damage and breakdown, which leeches amino acids from hard-earned muscle. If adequate nutrition is provided immediately after training, the body goes into a hyper-anabolic state — the anabolic window. Refueling with a blended protein supplement immediately after training exploits and extends this window, leading to heightened protein synthesis, faster recovery and increased muscle growth.
Dose: Take 25 to 50 grams of high-quality blended protein within 30 minutes postworkout.
What is it? A monosaccharide, or simple sugar, this form of glucose gets digested quickly high up in the gastrointestinal tract.
How does it help you refuel and recover? The fast absorption of dextrose makes it an ideal postworkout carbohydrate supplement that can rapidly elevate insulin levels and refuel fatigued muscles with glycogen. Glycogen (stored carbohydrates) is a major source of muscle energy that’s used during sustained high-intensity exercise. So keeping glycogen levels topped up immediately after exercise shortens recovery time and re-energizes your muscles for the next training session. Because insulin is highly anabolic, dextrose can promote muscle gain and recovery without fat accumulation when taken right after training.
Dose: Mix 25 to 40 grams of dextrose into your postworkout protein shake.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids
What are they? BCAAs are the essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine, which share a unique branched-chain structure (hence their name) and are stored in muscles. They’re considered “essential” because our bodies cannot produce them, so they must be taken in through the diet.
How do they help you refuel and recover? During heavy training, the body takes BCAAs from active muscles to be used as energy — a catabolic process. Refueling with BCAAs immediately after exercise boosts blood levels and shuts down catabolism. In addition, taking BCAAs provides the body with surplus leucine, which turns on anabolism and supports heightened protein synthesis. The anti-catabolic and anabolic support offered by BCAAs helps speed recovery and boost muscle growth.
Dose: Mix 5 to 10 grams of BCAAs into your postworkout protein shake. Use a formulation with a leucine:isoleucine:valine ratio of at least 2:1:1. (That is, there should be at least twice as much leucine compared to the others.) Most high-quality BCAA products offer this ratio.
What is it? Glutamine is one of the most abundant amino acids in skeletal muscle and is the most prevalent amino acid found in the blood.
How does it help you refuel and recover? Glutamine is considered a conditionally essential amino acid. It’s “conditionally” essential because the body can produce it on its own but possibly not in quantities sufficient to meet its needs during periods of heavy exercise or dieting. Heavy training can deplete glutamine levels, so refueling immediately after each training session is important because glutamine is a primary regulator of protein synthesis. It also helps muscle cells load with glycogen, which is critical for muscle size (glycogen pulls water into muscle cells) and energy storage to fuel subsequent workouts.
Dose: Take 5 grams of glutamine with your postworkout protein shake.