How to get the most out of your post-workout nutrition to maximize recovery and gains.
Once upon a time, athletes and bodybuilders didn't think too much about post-workout nutrition. Gradually, some began to notice that what they consumed after training made a big difference in their performance and their physique. In the 90's, science taught us that quickly ingesting a liquid meal of protein and carbs made a huge impact on recovery, repair, and, consequently, muscle growth.
So, most of us at that time started drinking a meal replacement shake right after we got back from the gym. It worked pretty well. This was certainly an improvement over the old off-season Arnold standby – consuming a whole chicken and a pitcher of beer after training!
Later we learned that ingesting an even greater amount of "simple" carbs after a workout was especially beneficial. We tried our best to concoct our own fast acting protein and carb drinks. Again, the results were okay, definitely better than nothing.
Finally, a bunch of labcoat types nailed the exact post-workout formula that could really help us take our physiques to the next level. One of those cats was T-mag contributor John M. Berardi, who formulated the hands-down best post-training drink on the market.
That's been a couple of years, so we thought we'd sit down and chat with John about what's new in this vital area of nutrition.
Chris Shugart: John, I understand you have some new info regarding post-workout nutrition, but before we get into that, let's review what we know so far. Give us the Cliff's Notes version of why a properly formulated post-workout drink is so important for looking good naked.
John M. Berardi: Cliff's Notes (or Cole's Notes for you Canadians)! Ahh, now you're bringing back memories, Shugs. I barely graduated high school and without Cliff, I might have had to do grade twelve over again. So, you want Cliff's Notes for my post workout strategies? Well, basically, here's the deal.
Every minute of every day is spent either building protein or breaking protein down. This process of protein turnover is one I've discussed before in my articles, Precision Nutrition and The Protein Prejudice. If, at the end of each day, there's more protein built than is broken down, the body will have improved.
If you're a strength athlete, it means you've probably built more muscle and improved your contractile machinery. If you're an endurance athlete, it means you've probably built more aerobic enzymes and improved the quality of your aerobic machinery. And if you're simply interested in improving your body composition, assuming you're eating well and exercising, it means you've probably lost some fat and built some muscle.
CS: So shifting the protein status of the body toward the positive side is always beneficial.
JMB: You got it. This is where post-workout nutrition is critical. For a number of years, physiologists have known that during all forms of exercise, and even in the few hours after exercise, the protein status shifts toward the negative end – where protein breakdown predominates.
This post-workout period represents an ideal target point for improving anabolism. As a result, exercise and nutrition researchers have discovered that the provision of carbohydrates and protein/amino acids during the potentially catabolic exercise and post exercise periods can not only reverse this negative shift in protein status, but can actually shift the body toward a very positive protein status, much more positive than any other time of the day.
In fact, new research shows that if you take a protein/amino acid and carbohydrate drink after exercise, the boost you get for the first few post-exercise hours adds to the eventual gains in protein mass associated with weight training. What this means is that the combination of proper post-workout nutrition taken immediately after exercise and the normal anabolic response to exercise will lead to unparalleled protein turnover, recovery, and anabolism.
That's the grossly simplified answer. For a more detailed, fully referenced discussion of this phenomenon, I encourage readers to check out my "Solving The Post-Workout Puzzle" Part 1 and Part 2 articles.
CS: What about pre-workout? I know a lot of people take half their "post" workout drinks before training and half after. Why?
JMB: I've actually written about this very topic before in a previous Appetite for Construction column. In that article, I discussed a study showing that a pre-workout drink containing protein/amino acids and carbohydrates can actually promote a greater anabolic response than what can be accomplished during the post-workout period. I also suggested either slugging down some Biotest Surge® before and after exercise or sipping the Surge during the exercise bout and then having some more after the bout.
CS: So what's up there?
JMB: Well, it appears that consuming such a beverage immediately before or during exercise can increase blood flow to the exercising muscles. In addition, since this extra blood will be jam-packed with protein building amino acids and energy supplying carbohydrates, the body can actually maintain an anabolic state during exercise. Before this study, a hypothesis stating this was possible would've been laughed at, but it turns out that a pre/during workout drink can actually shift the body into a muscle building state even during the most intense exercise.
From this information it's not too far fetched to suggest that a pre/during workout drink containing protein/amino acids and carbohydrates would nicely add to the effects of one's post-workout drink by tackling the exercise period. The post-workout drink tackles the post-exercise period.
One thing I've learned, however, is that it's best to avoid drinking the Surge before exercise and instead sip it during the exercise. By consuming it before, some athletes have been prone to rebound hypoglycemia during their training while others have simply felt too full with all that fluid slogging around in their guts.
CS: Okay, so for those that use Surge pre-workout, it's usually best to sip it throughout the workout instead, then take the other half after training. Gotcha.
You know, there's been a huge "Surge resurgence" recently. I guess word is getting around because even though we haven't talked about it much lately here at the mag, sales of Surge are going through the roof.
JMB: To be quite honest, I'm surprised it's taken this long for people to start getting the message; the post-workout nutrition studies have been appearing since the mid-90's. But I guess people's reluctance has been due to the fact that exotic supplements containing micro and milligram quantities of weird, untested herbs have been all the rage lately, taking people's focus off the most important nutritional manipulations of all–manipulations of the macronutrients. As you well know, it's not all that exotic or sexy to recommend simple products containing basic ingredients like proteins, carbohydrates, and amino acids.
CS: Now that Surge has been out for a while, what observations have you made? What are users experiencing?
JMB: Surge users have been reporting a host of benefits. Weight trainers have reported the following:
One, an increase in muscle mass over time. Those last few words are very important. While it's not uncommon to see 400% increases in protein synthesis when using protein/amino acids and carbohydrates immediately after training, even this huge increase only translates into a few grams of muscle mass gained per workout. Since there are 1000 grams in a kilogram, it takes quite a few workouts to gain a measurable amount of muscle mass with this single nutritional manipulation alone. But, of course, every little bit helps and it all adds up to make a visual difference!
Two, users are noticing a large reduction in delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. This reduction in muscle soreness may be due to the increased blood flow to the muscle during exercise when using Surge. It may also be due to the increased rates of protein turnover seen with the use of good post-workout nutrition. Regardless, double blind pilot work at the University of Western Ontario has shown reduced muscle soreness 24 and 48 hours after a bout of strength exercise when using hydrolyzed whey protein and carbohydrates vs. carbohydrate and placebo beverages.
CS: Very cool. What else are people experiencing?
JMB: A large improvement in recovery times! Whether recovery is measured by muscle soreness, mood (parameters like fatigue, vigor, etc), or force recovery (the ability to duplicate pre-workout strength tasks), Surge can contribute to enhanced recovery times, allowing for increased workout frequency without overtraining.
CS: I agree. I've noticed all those things, not to mention just overall improved and more productive workouts. Simply put, I can hit it really freaking hard in the gym without worrying too much about excess soreness or overtraining. You know, it's kinda weird when you think about it, but what you do nutrition-wise after Monday's workout really makes a difference in the quality of Tuesday's workout! I hear endurance athletes are really benefiting from post-training drinks as well.
JMB: Not only do endurance athletes benefit from the use of Surge, they actually respond better than weight trainers! If there's one market I'd love to see embrace the use of Surge, it's the endurance crowd.
Now before my weight training brethren crucify me for consorting with the endurance folk, let me explain my affiliation. Originally my doctoral dissertation was designed to examine the effects of a drink very similar in composition to Surge on a number of parameters related to performance and body composition. While the data collection was going well, it was quite difficult to find reproducible measures to quantify how much benefit the Surge-like drink was providing to weight trainers. As a result, I decided to do a little pilot project examining the effects of the drink on cycling recovery. Since the cycling bout we chose was very reproducible, it seemed like a good idea.
Although we didn't expect much, after the first few subjects had been completed, my labmates and I were blown away by what we were seeing. We then turned the pilot project into a full-blown investigation. When all the results were analyzed, what we saw was nothing short of astounding.
CS: My inner geek is intrigued. Dish, man, dish!
JMB: Well, after providing subjects with a standardized breakfast, we had them come in to ride a very intense sixty-minute laboratory cycling course for distance. Then, after a six-hour break (in which we provided different recovery drinks), we brought subjects back in to ride again. We then compared the A.M. performance to the P.M. performance. Of course, after a hard sixty-minute ride in the morning, no cyclist would be able to duplicate his/her performance. However, the goal of this investigation was to minimize the performance drop-off from A.M. to P.M.
When comparing the distance traveled in the A.M. vs. the distance traveled in the P.M., the Surge-like drink outperformed the other groups by a whopping 250% (these results are statistically significant) as seen below. As you can see, the Surge-like group (P+C) had less of a performance drop than the isoenergetic carbohydrate group (C) and the isoenergetic placebo group (Pb). This group got no liquid nutrition but did get one big meal throughout the recovery period that was equal in calories to the other two conditions.
CS: You know, Berardi, I'm always kinda freaked out when you just pull charts and graphs out of your pocket like that. You've got this weird scientist-magician vibe going. Anyway, go ahead please.
JMB: Since the performance data were collected, we've measured all sorts of interesting things including muscle glycogen use, synthesis, and resynthesis; heart rate, power production, and oxygen consumption during the exercise bouts; blood Testosterone, growth hormone, cortisol, insulin, glucose, lactic acid, and a whole host of other markers of muscle damage and hematological parameters before, during, and after the exercise bouts. What we're now trying to do is find a few answers as to why this beverage seems so darned effective in promoting performance recovery in endurance athletes.
These data should be analyzed over the next few months, earning me my Ph.D. as well as providing a number of research papers that I'll probably submit for publication in 2004. Hopefully the endurance athletes out there will catch wind of this ultra-effective recovery protocol and start using a higher ratio of protein to carbs (a 1:2 ratio) during recovery. In addition, perhaps they'll embrace higher protein intakes. In this study, the P+C group got nearly 120 grams of protein during the six hour recovery period while the C group got 45 grams and the Pb group got about 70.
At least in my elite cyclists, gone are the days of carb-only recovery drinks and numerous post-workout bowls of cereal.
CS: Cool. Have you discovered any new info about post-workout drinks you didn't know before?
JMB: Yep, I have. Laboratory data seems to suggest that Surge users get more babes. While I don't have the data analyzed yet, it seems that when given Surge vs. a placebo drink, men drinking Surge get more phone numbers and less rejections than those drinking placebo.
JMB: No, but I had you going for a second there, didn't I?
JMB: Okay, seriously, Surge promotes a much more powerful insulin response than I ever expected it would. Laboratory data on fasted subjects reveals a 1000% increase in blood insulin at peak concentrations, thirty minutes after Surge ingestion. This increase is similar to what one might see with an insulin injection.
In addition, the blood glucose response to Surge is also quite surprising. Due to the huge insulin surge, blood glucose only rises by about 15% at peak and then drops precipitously down to about 40% of fasted baseline. This means that Surge is rapidly taken up into the blood and is delivered to the target tissues within 15 to 30 minutes of ingestion. That's really quick! When using conventional glycemic index numbers, it appears that Surge actually has a negative glycemic index. But this is simply due to the fact that blood glucose clearance is so rapid there's not much time to catch it in the blood.
For you non-science types, this simply means that Surge is so powerful that it hits the muscle almost immediately after ingestion, making it more like an infusion rather than simple ingestion.
And for you science types, it's important to recognize that while blood glucose fell in the experiment above, if these measurements were taken during exercise, the fall wouldn't be so precipitous since exercise induced rises in catecholamines would prevent any hypoglycemic effect.
CS: Wow! Very interesting! Okay, now let's clear up a few frequently asked questions. Should a person use Surge if he's on a low carb diet?
JMB: In my opinion, if you follow the approach I'm about to suggest, you can have your Surge and your fat loss, too.
First, follow your ketogenic diet for about two weeks in order to adapt to the high fat, low carbohydrate approach. The evidence is clear that it takes this long for the central and peripheral metabolic responses to ketogenic dieting to occur. So hang in there during the first, most difficult two weeks.
Second, during the third week, you can begin using Surge as follows: sip one serving during your weight training workout, finishing it toward the end of your training. Then do your cardio after the weights. Next, have an additional serving of Surge immediately after your cardio.
CS: Will that kick you out of ketosis?
JMB: Yes. The generation of ketone bodies will be inhibited while blood carbohydrate and insulin are higher. However, it's well known in the research that even a weekend of high carbohydrate feedings (as discussed with the cyclic ketogenic diets) doesn't undo the metabolic adaptations associated with ketogenic dieting. So being kicked out of ketosis for a short period doesn't really matter all that much. Remember, being "out of ketosis" doesn't mean that fat loss has stopped.
Here's another reason why it's okay to take Surge in the manner suggested. Since the time courses of the increases in blood glucose and blood insulin are brief (as demonstrated above), you'll be back in ketosis very shortly after your workout and post-workout drink.
It's my opinion that if you wait until you've adapted to your ketogenic diet, drinking a recovery drink like Surge during and after your workouts will probably not undo the adaptations you've earned during your first two weeks. In addition, drinking such a drink will surely kick you out of ketosis but only for a very brief period of time. Just because you're "out of ketosis," you definitely won't stop losing fat during this time. Besides, the enhanced muscle growth and recovery you'll get will far toutweigh that small reduction in the rate of fat loss.
CS: I've noticed that myself. While I don't use very low carb diets anymore, I've found that Surge doesn't slow fat loss at all when I'm eating about 100 grams of carbs per day (which is as low as I go these days). In fact, it seems to speed fat loss up, probably because my workouts continue to be energetic and productive instead of flat and somnambulant.
Anyway, what are the most common mistakes Surge users are making?
JMB: There are three common mistakes I've recognized. First, not using enough water to dilute the Surge. With Surge it's important to use enough water to dilute the ingredients, especially when sipping the drink during workouts.
Ideally a 5-10% concentration is desired. Therefore, if one were to use half a serving of Surge (about 45g), between 450 and 900 ml of water would be desired to dilute the powder to a 10% and 5% concentration respectively. The realities of concentration gradients and osmolality exist whether or not you recognize and respect them. If you don't dilute your supplement drinks properly, you'll be "pressure washing" the porcelain while jettisoning your post-workout nutrition.
Another mistake is drinking a big serving of Surge immediately prior to working out. As I demonstrated earlier, Surge has a powerful hypoglycemic effect in the non-exercise state. Therefore, if one were to drink Surge about 15 to 20 minutes prior to exercise, they'd probably have a blood sugar crash.
However, since the hormonal effects of exercise preserve blood glucose concentrations, sipping the drink throughout the exercise bout won't present a problem. Secondarily, a practical problem arises with drinking Surge prior to exercise. Working out with a liter of water sloshing around in your gut is uncomfortable.
The last mistake I've noticed people making is not eating a meal within 60 to 90 minutes after consuming their post-workout Surge. While you're safe from hypoglycemia during the workout, low blood sugar can come back with a vengeance during the post-workout period. Therefore, it's necessary to consume a meal 60 to 90 minutes after the post-workout drink. If not, you'll probably experience the same sensations Tim Patterson describes back in issue #142 in his "Behind the Scenes" column. While Tim gets off on that sort of stuff, most normal individuals consider the "pre-blackout stage" that comes with low blood sugar a bit scary.
CS: Are you kidding? Watching Tim blackout and fall down the stairs is the highlight of our day around here! Okay, another common question: Can I add anything to Surge?
JMB: Originally I strongly cautioned users against adding anything to Surge. The rationale for this was the fact that I didn't want them messing with the formula, adding all sorts of wacky insulin mimickers and secretagogues that would drop blood sugar so low that they'd be reduced to nothing but quivering masses of muscle heaped on the gym floor. To this end, I'd avoid adding any insulin mimickers, insulin secretagogues, or supplements that improve glucose tolerance. Nor did I want them adding other ingredients that might slow digestion or absorption. To this end, I suggest avoid adding fats and extra protein. Other ingredients, such as carbohydrates or creatine are okay as long as extra water is added to maintain the required 5 to 10% dilution.
CS: I've seen cheaper post-workout products on the market (although their taste is gagging, while Surge tastes like angel food cake). Why is Surge so pricey?
JMB: It's that damn Tim Patterson! He's your typical corporate executive: lavish parties, corporate jets, Cuban cigars, high priced madams–you know the type. In order to afford his hedonistic indulgences, he jacks up the price of all the Biotest products.
Okay, not really. Anyone who knows Tim will know how laughable that is. Look, Surge isn't all that expensive. It's only about $2.30 per full serving if you can find a good deal. And remember, you only take it on training days. To me, that doesn't seem so expensive.
But even if Surge is a bit pricey, it's important to realize that each serving contains 25 grams of hydrolyzed whey protein, 50 grams of a carbohydrate blend, and 11.25 grams of supplemental, free form amino acids. While the carb sources (glucose and maltodextrin) are relatively cheap, the hydrolyzed whey and the amino acids cost a pretty penny.
In addition, since Biotest does a great job of seeking out the highest quality ingredients, it's understandable that the cost of such a product will be a bit more than the cost of its knock-off competitors. But rather than simply deferring to the arbitrary "high quality ingredients" argument that most companies use, let me explain what I mean by high quality, especially with respect to protein.
CS: Go for it.
JMB: Most are probably aware that many of the proteins currently available are processed using different methods of separation and filtration. These processes start with something like liquid milk and end up with whey and casein powders. Based on the method of processing employed, you get things like whey concentrates, whey isolates, milk protein isolates, etc.
In the past, the isolation process wasn't as streamlined and efficient as it is today. This meant a high lactose and fat content in these original whey protein concentrates. In addition, these methods utilized high temperatures or large changes in acidity in order to concentrate either the whey or the casein. Due to these extreme treatments, whey protein products contained only 30 to 40% protein and high amounts of lactose, fat, and denatured proteins. This means the whey structure was destroyed and many of the most potent peptides in whey and casein were eliminated. Today, however, more advanced methods of isolation have been developed, yet there are still differences in protein quality.
While most protein supplements on the market use intact proteins, Surge uses protein hydrolysates. You see, whey or casein protein can be hydrolyzed (broken into smaller pieces) by enzymes that produce small chains of amino acids called peptides. This process mimics our own digestive actions. This makes hydrolysis an ideal way to process protein as long as manufacturers are careful not to denature it. Once hydrolyzed, these undenatured peptides have many benefits over and above whole protein sources.
Since the GI prefers peptides to whole proteins or amino acids, hydrolyzed proteins are more easily broken down and absorbed into the blood stream than whole protein sources. In fact, hydrolyzed proteins may be absorbed in about half the time it takes free form amino acids or whole proteins. This can lead to a more rapid delivery into the body, especially when it's needed most like after weight training workouts.
Also, hydrolyzed whey protein concentrates have a higher BV score than whey protein concentrates or other milk protein preparations. Higher BV scores translate to better processing and utilization of protein in the body. In addition, this increase in BV may increase the release of IGF-1, which can stimulate muscle growth.
CS: Weren't there some studies concerning catabolism (muscle-wasting) in this regard?
JMB: Yes, these studies have shown that hydrolysates don't stimulate the release of the catabolic hormone cortisol whereas whole intact proteins do stimulate this catabolic hormone. Finally, hydrolyzed proteins are less likely to produce allergenic effects, even in those with severe milk allergy.
Although protein hydrolysates seem to offer some nice advantages when compared to intact proteins, a word of caution is again necessary. Different hydrolysis techniques have been used to break protein down into small peptides. These techniques have had various degrees of success. Older methods of acid-based hydrolysis often led to a substantial destruction of the proteins and peptides. Also, older enzymatic methods often produced incompletely hydrolyzed products that were very bitter tasting and that also lost their functionality (YH Lee et al 1992). Fortunately, new methods of mild enzymatic hydrolysis have been developed to hydrolyze whey or casein proteins.
Obviously, with the great taste of Surge, we've chosen to use a very high quality enzymatic hydrolysis. This helps prevent the nasty taste that most other hydrolyzed proteins have and helps to preserve the peptide and amino acid structures. So that's what I'm talking about when I say "high quality ingredients."
CS: Great info, John. Let me sum up some of the new info presented here before we close:
- Those who choose to ignore proper post-workout nutrition are kicking their own asses when it comes to recovery, muscle growth, and improved performance.
- Instead of using a pre-workout drink, it's better to sip it during the workout and have another serving after the workout.
- Endurance athletes would substantially improve their performance if they used post-workout drinks and upped their protein intake.
- You want a powerful insulin response after a workout. The response provided by Surge is as powerful as the insulin injections pro-bodybuilders give themselves to get the same benefit.
- You can lose fat rapidly while using Surge, even if you're on a low carb diet. The best way to reap the benefits is to keto diet for two weeks, then add Surge in the third week – half sipped during training, half consumed after. The enhanced muscle growth and recovery you'll get will far outweigh the small reduction in the rate of fat loss and getting temporarily kicked out of ketosis.
- John Berardi gets more ass than a toilet seat. This may be related to his Surge usage, or it could be because he hangs around me and catches my abundant babe overflow.
I think that about sums it up! Thanks, John!
JMB: "Babe overflow"?
CS: Just nod your head like you're agreeing with me and I'll give you twenty bucks.
JMB: Whatever. Thanks for the interview, Chris!