If you don't take care of workout supplementation, you might as well not train. Here's how to get it right.
Here's what you need to know...
• When you consume nutrients is as important as what nutrients you consume, at least if you want to optimize muscle size, body comp, recovery, performance, and strength.
• If you don't take charge of insulin during your peri-workout period, you're flat-out wasting your time.
• There are few things as indisputable in the strength game as proper peri-workout supplementation. It's perfect logic and it's perfect science.
There have been big advances in muscle-building nutrition and supplementation over the years, but the one thing that supersedes all others in terms of flat-out effectiveness is our knowledge of the importance of timing.
Let me put it to you this way: when you consume certain nutrients is as important as what nutrients you choose to ingest in terms of, well, just about everything including muscle size, body comp, recovery, performance, and strength.
T Nation has talked about it for years and even coined the term, The Third Law, which explains that to get the greatest gains from training, you need to consume the precise compounds to fully fuel, reload, and rebuild muscle. But this can only be done immediately prior to, during, and immediately after training. This time period is sometimes referred to as peri-workout, meaning all around the training period. It's the backbone of our supplement philosophy.
There's been an enormous amount of corroborating research on the subject and numerous articles and books have given a passing nod to the concept, but few have actually explained what happens when you consume a certain combination of nutrients at very specific times before, during, and after training.
If they did, then maybe more people would get it, and there'd be a whole new era of weight training where people were actually making significant and steadfast progress.
In short, if you're not following the rules of peri-workout supplementation now, you absolutely will by the time you finish this article – assuming of course you live in a universe that abides by logic.
To get a better understanding of nutrient timing, let's compare and contrast the traditional approach to training nutrition to a proper, science-backed workout supplementation protocol.
If You Don't Understand Workout Supplementation
Here's what happens...5>
In years past, presumably knowledgeable lifters would eat or drink a protein/carb meal about an hour or two before a workout. They'd kick their feet up, maybe peruse their workout notes, and let their food get broken down a bit so it could be absorbed by the villi of their intestine, where the nutrients would then ooze into capillary tributaries that serve the rivers of blood vessels.
Insulin levels would rise accordingly and the recently ingested/digested nutrients would piggyback onto the hormone. Together, they'd ride the currents until they reached other capillaries that led directly to muscle cells. The insulin would then present the various amino acids and glucose molecules to the muscle cells as metabolic gifts. Thus fortified, the lifter would head to the gym and begin his workout.
During the Workout
Unfortunately, insulin levels, elevated after the pre-workout meal an hour or two ago, have by this time likely fallen to baseline levels. As a result, the glycogen/glucose that muscles rely on, quickly starts to drop during the first few sets.
The hormone glucagon then begins to raise its opportunistic head. The hormone is an insulin antagonist (meaning it works against insulin, in a sense) and starts to rob muscles of amino acids so it can convert them to the glucose that the muscles need for fuel. Simultaneously, levels of other catabolic hormones, like epinephrine and cortisol, begin to rise.
Epinephrine, in its search for glucose, has started to rob the liver of glycogen. Cortisol, too, is committing larceny in a desperate search for energy. However, cortisol is amoral – it doesn't discriminate. It takes energy from wherever it can get it, be it from fat, carbs, or, unfortunately, from the building blocks of muscle itself, protein.
The harder the workout, the greater this breakdown of protein for fuel. Add that loss of protein to the damage incurred by the workout itself in the form of torn muscle cells and rampant free radicals and you have the setting for a systemic Katrina-like disaster scene.
While the super-hero anabolic hormones like Testosterone, growth hormone, and IGF-1 make their appearance during a workout, any increases are relatively small and transient and they often drop below baseline levels after a workout. True, they'll do some repair work in the hours in-between, but the peri-workout period itself is prime time when it comes to muscle growth.
It's too bad insulin, often regarded as the most anabolic hormone, is now in short supply in our hypothetical scenario. Insulin is what's needed to offset the collective efforts of all the workout-induced catabolic hormones. But unfortunately, insulin levels were already at baseline or below baseline by the time our lifter pulled his Jeep into the gym parking lot.
(Of course, even if insulin levels were still high, they wouldn't have much to transport as our lifter swallowed his last bit of protein an hour or two before his workout began!)
Additionally, muscle cells are amazingly sensitive to insulin during and after a workout – more so than any other time of day or night. As a result, very few, if any, nutrients would be stored as fat during the peri-workout period. But alas, this sensitivity starts to fall precipitously as the post-workout minutes pass.
By the time our lifter drags his energy-depleted butt home an hour later and blends up a protein shake, his muscle cells are almost deaf, dumb, and blind to any rise in insulin from the shake he's ingesting. As a result, insulin can carry amino acids and glycogen to the muscle cells' doors, but they won't hear and they won't answer.
Homeless, many of the glucose molecules get stored as glycogen or fat. And while it's doubtful any protein would be stored as fat, much of it would end up in the liver, which is kind of a purgatory for unused amino acids.
Metabolically, the lifter's body has gone to hell but it hasn't come back. Glycogen levels remain depressed, catabolic hormones remain elevated, and the rate of protein breakdown exceeds the rate of protein synthesis.
So the net effect of this supposedly conscientious workout is probably little or no anabolic stimulus or resultant muscle growth, and possibly even some storage of fat in the post-workout meal. Muscle strength might still increase, though, as strength is often largely a response to neurological stimuli. But if muscle growth and better body comp were the goals, the lifter is pretty much out of luck.
It's not a pretty picture, is it?
Let's contrast the above with what would happen if the lifter knew something about modern day, science-backed peri-workout supplementation.
If You Do Understand Workout Supplementation
Here's what happens...5>
The science-savvy lifter consumes nutrients about 45 minutes to an hour before a workout, too, but it's comprised of about 40 to 50 grams of easily digested functional carbohydrates and about 35-40 grams of unique di- and tripeptides that are absorbed directly into the bloodstream to set up his metabolic machinery. Insulin levels surge and amino acids and glucose are carried to muscle cells to prime the pump.
Fifteen minutes prior the workout, the lifter ingests another 35 to 40 grams of a special functional carbohydrate blend and another 15 to 20 grams of quick-acting protein, also in liquid form. Again, this is to make sure that the body's most anabolic hormone, insulin, is flowing at peak capacities and that there are plenty of glucose molecules and amino acids for insulin to carry to hard-working muscle cells.
If the lifter wants to further enhance the anabolic effects of insulin, he'd also ingest cyanin 3-glucoside (C3G) at this time. C3G increases insulin sensitivity on muscle cells (not fat cells), thus enhancing glucose and protein transport, so all the good stuff you get with insulin is amplified and translates to bigger pumps, faster strength gains, and enhanced work capacity and recovery.
During the Workout
During the workout itself, our smart lifter continues to sip a combination of this same special carbohydrate blend and di- and tripeptide formulation. By now, even during what would normally be the most metabolically devastating part of the workout, his insulin levels are high, as is his insulin sensitivity.
His blood flow has increased, his pump is mind blowing, and insulin molecules are loaded down with amino acids and glucose like Santa's sleigh, and they're greedily being accepted by muscle cells.
With all that insulin surging through the body, cortisol levels remain low, and the glycogen or amino acid-robbing effects of it and its evil cohorts don't amount to anything. Likewise, free radical production is kept to a manageable minimum.
Protein breakdown in general is extremely low. The carbs, still being regularly ingested, are fueling the ATP/creatine phosphate system, ensuring higher reps and more intense muscle contractions. Fat is also being oxidized at a much higher rate than would otherwise be possible, and this fat oxidation continues even after the workout.
Our still outrageously pumped lifter drives home – even though he feels he probably could have kept on lifting until they shut the lights out and locked the doors – and fixes himself another small protein drink or "pulse."
Muscle cells are still extremely sensitive to still-high insulin levels and the just-introduced di- and tripeptides are quickly shuttled off to still greedy muscle cells. Cortisol levels, normally elevated after a workout, have been beaten down and shamed.
The net result of this evolved approach? We have a lifter who gave his muscles every advantage.
1. The anabolic environment he created is perfect for muscle growth and recovery.
2. Protein synthesis is super high.
3. Catabolic hormones are low.
4. Fat oxidation is proceeding, furnace like.
5. Free radicals have been minimized.
6. ATP and creatine levels have been fully reestablished.
And, if you were to actually weigh his muscles, they'd actually be much heavier, percentage wise, than they would be if you followed the traditional approach.
This lifter has done everything to stack the muscle-building cards in his favor and he'll be rewarded with significant additional muscle growth and improved body composition. Furthermore, he probably won't be sore or fatigued at all the next day. He'll feel unbreakable, every single workout.
That's quite a difference from the traditional, time-honored approach employed by our first hypothetical lifter, huh?
There are few things as indisputable in the strength game as proper peri-workout supplementation. It's perfect logic and beyond that, it's perfect science.
To echo the "3rd Law," what you do the rest of the day is up to you, but give your peri-workout supplementation the attention it deserves and you will absolutely, definitely make the progress that might have eluded you in the past.