The Post Exercise Protein Meal and muscle growth. Is this meal that important?  
In health fitness, muscle growth is perhaps the most important thing that you can do. In fact, it may be the most important thing you can do for your body and mind. The reason growing lean muscle is so important is because it will help with controlling your weight by helping you burn more calories. It helps the mind by increasing confidence and self worth.

It is of utmost importance in the elderly population, because it will help with osteoporosis, by building stronger, bigger bones and also allows one to be physically stronger and fatigue less easily. So by growing more muscle daily tasks are much easier, not to mention much safer, helping prevent falls and injuries.

We know that growing bigger muscles requires the stimulus, which is progressive resistance training exercises, but also the building blocks that make building muscle happen, which is of course proper nutrition. Of course there are other factors that must be satisfied, such as taking rest days and avoiding overtraining, sleeping well and training consistently, but the above two are perhaps the most imperative.

So after you perform a resistance training workout, you must provide the body, the building blocks it needs to initiate muscle construction. Over the past few years, it was discovered that ingesting a protein and carbohydrate drink within two hours after your workout, went a long way towards optimizing your recovery which makes growing muscle a heck of a lot easier.

Immediately after a workout the stored energy in your body is low, which means glycogen is depleted. Depleted glycogen levels means that you are unable to recover maximally and this also has been shown to decrease protein synthesis. It is therefore extremely important that you consume a protein and carbohydrate meal, preferably in a drink for easier absorption and digestion, within two hours of your workout. This has been shown scientifically to increase muscle glycogen levels and protein synthesis.

Until recently it was believed that as long as your post exercise meal was within two hours after your workout, your recovery, in terms of muscle glycogen and protein synthesis was maximized. This so called, "window of opportunity" for increased recovery was therefore believed to last two hours. In fact, in one of Arnold's earliest bodybuilding books, he did not recommend that you eat immediately after your workout. This theory has now been virtually thrown out the window.

Esmark and his research team, looked at whether there was a difference between ingesting this post-workout protein meal, 5 minutes or two hours after a resistance training workout. They took 13 untrained elderly men and supervised them while on a 12 week periodized program. After being matched for body composition and protein intake, they divided them up into two groups.

One group did the resistance training program and after 5 minutes ingested the post-workout meal drink, while the other did exactly the same resistance training program but ingested the post-workout meal drink after 2 hours. The scientists of course took measures of body composition and strength before the program and after the program to observe differences.

What they found basically threw the old thinking out the window. They discovered that those that ingested the drink within 5 minutes after the workout had a 1.8% increase in lean body mass, a.k.a. precious muscle. Amazingly, those that did so 2 hours after the workout actually decreased their lean body mass by 1.5%, which is something no one should experience.

The cross sectional area of the quadriceps muscle was examined before and after. Those that ingested the protein/carbohydrate drink after 5 minutes increased their quad muscle by 7%, while those that did so two hours after a workout did not record any increase in quadriceps size.

Not surprisingly, strength testing before and after showed similar results. Those that ingested the supplement drink immediately after the workout experienced greater strength gains than those that waited two hours. To make matters worse, the group that waited two hours before supplementing, did not record any strength increases in some of the tests.

Can you see the importance of all this? Those that resistance trained, while supervised in a periodized fashion for 12 weeks, experienced a loss in muscle mass, no increase in quadriceps size and slight or no increases in strength. The reason people do resistance training is to increase lean muscle mass, not lose it. And with that usually comes strength gains. I mean, why else would you be doing resistance training?

But on the other hand, matched individuals that did exactly the same workout for exactly the same period of time, actually increased muscle mass and strength, which of course is what must happen when you train with resistance.

What was the difference between the muscle mass gainers and the non muscle mass gainers? Simply, the timing of when they ingested their post-workout protein/carbohydrate drink. This study suggests that the, anabolic window of opportunity to maximize recovery and induce resistance training adaptations is actually smaller than once believed. Therefore you must eat soon, or immediately after the workout session in order to gain strength and lean muscle. This study showed these powerful effects on only 10 grams of protein, so there's no need to overdo it.

Esmark and his research team, looked at whether there was a difference between ingesting this post-workout protein meal, 5 minutes or two hours after a resistance training workout.

 

Those that ingested the protein/carbohydrate drink after 5 minutes increased their quad muscle by 7%, while those that did so two hours after a workout did not record any increase in quadriceps size.

Not surprisingly, strength testing before and after showed similar results.

 

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REFERENCE: Esmarck B, Andersen JL, Olsen S, Richter MM. Timing of post-exercise protein intake is important for muscle hypertrophy with resistance training in elderly humans. Journal of Physiology. 535:301-311, 2001

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