Maximise Your Training Effect

When implemented properly and consistently, strategic pre- and post-workout supplementation can greatly increase the effectiveness of your training. Without optimum nutritional strategies, the body's response to training can only be considered a compromise at best. From this perspective, training and diet cannot be considered as separate factors. The food and supplements that you take, and the work that you faithfully perform in the gym, are both part of your training. On the day of competition it will not be the athlete who trained harder who wins, it will be the athlete who trained smarter.

Exercise causes acute changes in the metabolic environment of muscle tissue. First there is a significant increase in blood flow to working muscles. There is also a sharp increase in catecholamines (e.g. noradrenalin, adrenalin). These changes favor catabolism during exercise, and anabolism immediately after exercise. Because these changes are acute, some lasting only a few hours, the pre and post exercise meals are critical to optimizing the anabolic effect of exercise. This article will discuss pre- and post-exercise nutritional strategies based on current research in this area.

Pre-workout nutritional strategies are based on providing alternative energy substrates (mainly carbohydrate) to preserve energy stores, and taking advantage of increased blood flow to muscle tissue.

High intensity exercise places great demand on glycogen stores. Glycogen is the sugar stored in the liver and muscles. Because high intensity exercise burns energy at such a high rate, the body is unable to supply sufficient oxygen to be able to use fat for fuel. Instead, it must use sugar both stored in the muscle and brought in from the blood.

Consuming simple sugars right before training can reduce the amount of glycogen used during exercise. This can prolong performance. More importantly, higher blood sugar and insulin levels appear to create a hormonal milieu favorable to anabolism (growth).

During exercise, cortisol accelerates lipolysis, ketogenesis, and proteolysis (protein breakdown). This happens in order to provide additional fuel substrates for continued exercise. The effects of cortisol may also be necessary to provide an amino acid pool from which the muscle can rebuild new contractile proteins if there are insufficient amino acids delivered from the blood. This ensures that some degree of adaptation can occur regardless of the availability of dietary protein. Over time however, if this process is not balanced with additional dietary protein, the net effect will be only maintenance or even a decrease in functional muscle tissue, as is evident during periods of starvation or prolonged dieting. Fortunately, there is only a non-significant rise in cortisol levels when carbohydrates were consumed during exercise. (Tarpenning, 1998) The net effect is a more rapid increase in the cross sectional area of the muscle fibers with the greatest effect seen in type-II fibers.

This may be a less expensive option for those who were thinking of using phosphatidylserine. In this case, carbohydrate administration appears to down regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, probably through insulin or perhaps through the presence of carbohydrate itself. This would, in effect, greatly reduce the body's catabolic response to exercise stress. All good news for bodybuilders.

Another pre-workout strategy involves taking advantage of increased blood flow to working muscles. Because the availability of amino acids is often the limiting factor for protein synthesis, a pre-workout protein meal will enhance the delivery of amino acids to muscle tissue. Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of a pre-workout protein drink.

Delivery of amino acids has been shown to be significantly greater during the exercise bout when consumed pre-workout than after exercise (Tipton, 2001). There is also a significant difference in amino acid delivery in the 1st hour after exercise, with the pre-exercise protein drink providing a significant advantage. Net amino acid uptake across the muscle is twice as high with a pre-workout protein drink as compared to consuming it after. Phenylalanine disappearance rate, an indicator of muscle protein synthesis from blood amino acids, was significantly higher when amino acids were taken pre-workout. These results indicate that the response of net muscle protein synthesis to consumption of a protein solution immediately before resistance exercise is greater than that when the solution is consumed after exercise, primarily because of an increase in muscle protein synthesis as a result of increased delivery of amino acids to the leg.

During exercise muscles use metabolic fuels at an accelerated rate. In order for physical work to be continuous, the body mobilizes stored fuels to make fatty acids, glucose, and amino acids available for oxidation. This is a catabolic process and cannot occur simultaneous to anabolic processes such as glycogen formation and protein synthesis.

In order for the body to recover from exercise, the catabolic environment must be quickly changed to an anabolic environment. The food that you eat after training affects the hormonal milieu in your body in order for this to take place. With the rapid introduction of carbohydrate, protein, and fat into the system post exercise, the body is able to begin reparations on damaged tissue and replenish fuel reserves.

Carbohydrates are important for performance and perhaps more importantly for glycogen recovery. Studies have shown an increased ability of muscle tissue to take up serum glucose immediately following strenuous exercise (Goodyear 1998). This is due to what is called, "non-insulin dependant glucose uptake". After a meal, muscle cells transport glucose across the cell membrane in response to the hormone insulin. Insulin binds with its receptors at the cell surface causing a cascade of events that ends with proteins, called glucose transporters, being translocated to the cell surface. Once at the cell surface, these glucose transporters allow glucose to pass through the membrane where they can be phosphorylated and eventually stored as glycogen.

Membrane transport of glucose will exhibit saturation kinetics similar to the effect of increasing substrate concentration on the activity of enzymes. The number of glucose transporters limits the rate of glucose entry into your muscle cells. Once all available glucose transporters are associated with a glucose molecule, the rate of glucose entry will go no higher.

There are at least 5 different classes of glucose transporter proteins. They are designated GLUT1, GLUT2, GLUT3, GLUT4, and GLUT5. Each class of GLUT protein differs in its kinetic parameters and is found in specific tissues. GLUT-4 is the primary isoform regulated by insulin, and sensitive to muscle contraction.

Muscle contractions, much like insulin, cause a separate set of GLUT-4 proteins to be temporarily translocated to the surface of the muscle cell (Sherman 1996). This greatly increases the rate at which muscle tissue can take in glucose from the blood after a bout of exercise. The effects of exercise on glucose uptake last for a few hours into the post exercise period. If the post exercise meal is lacking in carbohydrates, the replenishment of glycogen is delayed. If carbohydrates are lacking in the diet, exercise will cause a glucose deficit and glycogen stores will continue to fall without being replenished to pre exercise levels.

There has been some controversy about which type of carbohydrate is best for post exercise glycogen replenishment. Some argue that simple sugars such as dextrose are best after exercise. Others say that drinks with glucose polymers are best. Still others say that there is no need to buy fancy sports drinks and that simply eating a meal high in carbohydrates such as pasta or rice is sufficient. Studies have shown no difference between different types of carbohydrates eaten post exercise and the rate of glycogen replenishment as long as sufficient quantities of carbohydrate are consumed (Burke 1997). Even when the post exercise meal contains other macronutrients such as proteins and fats, the rate of glycogen replenishment is not hindered, given there is sufficient carbohydrate in the meal as well. These studies tell us that the rate-limiting step in glycogen replenishment after exercise is not in digestion or the glycemic index of a given source of carbohydrate. Over a 24-hour period it is the total amount of carbohydrate consumed that is important.

The rate-limiting step in glucose uptake during exercise is determined by the rate of phosphorylation once glucose has entered the muscle cell (Halseth 1998). Glycogen synthase activity is also a possible rate-limiting step (Halseth 1998). These processes are not readily influenced by the composition of the "post exercise" meal, but rather by the extent to which glycogen was depleted during exercise as well as the amount of carbohydrate and fat consistently included in the diet.

It is recommended that at least 0.7 - 1.0 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight be consumed immediately after exercise and then again 1-2 hours later. If you experience gastric upset try increasing the amount of water you consume with the carbs. Try to shoot for a total of 7-10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight over a 24-hour period 3 for maximum glycogen storage. This may well be in excess of caloric needs but it is important to shoot for this intake if glycogen storage is your primary goal.

Protein is another critical nutrient post-exercise. Protein is essential to post exercise anabolism. Protein provides amino acids that are used to rebuild damaged tissues as well as provide enzymes and carrier proteins necessary for adaptation to exercise. Without protein, which supplies essential amino acids for endogenous protein synthesis, the body's ability to adapt to exercise is greatly diminished.

Studies have shown a 12 to 14 day period after the onset of an unaccustomed exercise program, in which nitrogen balance, the ratio of protein intake to protein loss, is negative (Butterfield 1987). Any study looking at protein needs and exercise must take this into account. Nitrogen balance during this period appears to be insensitive to total caloric intake, but can be improved with a high protein intake if adequate calories are supplied (Gontzea 1975). Even though additional protein intake will prevent nitrogen balance from becoming negative, it will still fall despite high protein intake during the first two weeks of exercise.

Muscle specific messenger RNA (mRNA) produced subsequent to training has a half-life of only 4-5 hours. It is so short because mRNA has no "quality control" mechanism built into the coding. By keeping the half-life short, any errors in the sequence won't be able to produce enough defective proteins to do irreparable damage to the cell or organism. This also allows tight control of protein metabolism.

The timing of protein intake is important. If the anabolic stimulus from exercise is to be maximized, a steady flow of amino acids must bathe the muscle while mRNA content is high. It should be no surprise that the optimum time for protein intake after your workout is relatively brief compared to frequency of training a particular muscle. Muscle protein synthetic rate (MPS) is elevated in humans by up to 50% at about 4 hours following a bout of heavy resistance training, and by 109% at 24 hours following training. A study done by Macdougall (MacDougall et al 1995) further examined the time course for elevated muscle protein synthesis by examining its rate at 36 hrs following a bout of heavy resistance training. Six healthy young men performed 12 sets of 6- to 12-RM elbow flexion exercises with one arm while the opposite arm served as a control. MPS was calculated from the in vivo rate of incorporation of L-[1,2-13C2] leucine into biceps brachii of both arms over 11 hours. At an average time of 36 hours post-exercise, MPS in the exercised arm had returned to within 14% of the control arm value, the difference being nonsignificant. The following conclusions can be drawn from this study, following a bout of heavy resistance training, muscle protein synthetic rate increases rapidly, is more than double at 24 hours, and then declines rapidly so that at 36 hours it has almost returned to baseline.

Current recommendations for total protein intake for athletes is between 1.6-1.8 grams per kilogram body weight, depending on who you read, however, it is not uncommon for bodybuilders to consume in excess of 2 grams per kg of body weight with no ill effects. It should be remembered that the body does not have the capacity to effectively store amino acids. Protein should be eaten at least every 3-4 hours. The evening meal should contain slowly digesting protein that will allow a steady release of amino acids into your system well into the night. Dinner is a perfect time for steak or other meat dishes.