Peri workout nutrition what does this mean to you?
If you’ve not heard of peri-nutrition, then the chances are you are struggling to make gains, or you don’t realise that you already know what it is! Peri-nutrition is a term that simply refers to what you consume before, during and after exercise. But there’s more to it than that, if you want to optimise your training and see your physique change from average to extraordinary, then keep on reading.
I used to think that peri-workout nutrition, simply boiled down to consuming some BCAAs during my workout.
Boy, I had a lot to learn!
I first discovered intra-workout (during exercise) nutrition when I stumbled across the information produced by John Meadows. I had been following John for some time and well it’s safe to say he certainly knows his stuff; not only does he talk the talk but he definitely walks the walk.
I was constantly suffering from major DOMS after every workout, so when I come across Peri-workout nutrition I thought to myself “well why not give it a go aye?”, “what have I got to loose?”.
Well read along and say goodbye to DOMS forever…
How can Peri workout nutrition make a difference?
As you probably already know, hard training creates muscular damage at the cellular level. This creates the stimulus for growth; it’s also what makes you ache after a very hard or new workout. Exercise alone won’t create muscle, you need to supply the body with the nutrition to grow new muscle cells and the supporting physiology that goes with them. This is where peri-nutrition comes in.
In order for your body to grow and strengthen, you need the level of muscle-protein synthesis (MPS), to be greater than the level of post-exercise muscle protein breakdown (MPB). This is a fact, it’s a bit like saying, if you save more money than you earn you’ll start to get richer. Whereas if you spend more than you earn, you’ll get poorer; simple economics!
MPS > MPB = Muscle Growth MPB > MPS = Muscle Loss
So it’s logical to say that the most desirable situation is to have the highest MPS and lowest MPB possible. Traditional thinking always held the belief that, as long as you can consume at least 50g of carbohydrates and 20g of protein, within 30 minutes of exercise, you’ll get the maximum anabolic effect; and eliminate the possibility of excess muscle protein breakdown. More recent thinking now shows that this isn’t entirely the truth.
It’s all a case of timing
What the traditional view doesn’t take into account, is timing. Although this might sound wrong, because it states “within 30 minutes of exercise”, when I refer to “timing” I mean how quickly your muscles can get those nutrients.
Let’s say that you go to the gym to train chest, legs and Abs. You start with chest, and after 30 minutes you’re done, and move onto legs and then abs. How long from when you finished working your chest till you give the muscles the nutrients for muscle-protein synthesis? Well at least another 45-60 minutes until you finish your workout, plus take into account the digestion period of your post-workout shake or meal. So you could be looking at a two hour gap. One study showed that the test subjects who waited two hours after exercise to have their post-workout nutrition, completely missed out on any muscle growth compared to the group who took even a meagre (10g protein) post-workout; immediately after training1.
This is where you start to realise the importance of intra-workout nutrition. Intra-workout nutrition, is basically post-workout taken whilst training, allowing for the gastric effect.
How to reduce MPB with peri-nutrition
So simply increasing MPS isn’t enough, plus you’ll always be restricted by the capacity of your stomach. So this is where we realise how important it is to fight a two pronged attack, by increasing muscle protein synthesis and reducing muscle protein breakdown. Here’s how.
Insulin will protect your body, by supressing muscle protein breakdown2. Obviously, when I say insulin, most people will think of the insulin spike you get from consuming simple sugars or basic carbs. I’m not saying you need to eat some sweets as a post-workout to raise insulin, because fortunately whey protein will also raise insulin levels enough to get this effect.
But, there’s a second factor at work when it comes to supressing MPB.
This hormone, will direct the body to use up fat and muscle tissue, in order to replenish energy in response to low blood-glucose levels and/or stress. Of course after a hard session, your blood-glucose levels will be low, and your body will be physically stressed. So you need to take steps to stop cortisol levels rising. This is where consuming good quality medium chain carbohydrate, such as highly branched cyclic dextrin (HBCD), will help. HBCD has a better osmolality to energy ratio than simple sugars, in other words you get a more concentrated fuel that is actually absorbed into the body faster than sugary solutions.
So this is where the traditional view of consuming 50g of carbohydrate within 30 minutes of exercise, gets its reputation. But also bear in mind consuming carbohydrates before and during exercise will also help to maintain blood-glucose levels post-exercise, thus repressing cortisol production which is good!
So in summary. To prevent muscle protein breakdown after exercise, you need to ensure that your blood-glucose levels are kept “topped up” before, during and after exercise. You also need to consume whey protein as soon after exercise as possible to keep insulin levels up.
How to increase MPS with peri-nutrition
This is the side of the story that most people focus on, without thinking about the above, but while this is very important, you should still do both for maximum gains.
There are three parts to this strategy, before, during and after exercise. Research has shown the importance of protein intake before exercise3; not just post-workout. So let’s start with pre-workout.
The timing of your pre-workout strategy is as important as the nutrition itself. You need to strike the balance between getting all of the nutrients you need, whilst avoiding bloating and a large serotonin spike; otherwise you may go into your training sessions feeling sleepy or slow. Never a good thing!
The great thing about my peri-workout nutritional strategy, is that you don’t have to gorge on a pre-workout meal to get what you need, thus meaning you feel less bloated. Also the convenience of just drinking a pre-mixed shake, is far better than preparing and timing a specific pre-workout meal. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t still have a solid strategy in place for you pre-workout meal, just that you don’t have to get the timing for digestion as perfect (which can be hard if you have a normal life).
By continuing to consume this formula during my workout, I maximise gains and offer the body the tools it needs to kick-start the muscle-protein synthesis as soon as it needs them. There is no waiting until I finish the session. So as soon as I have finished training a muscle group, it has the nutrients it needs to start the building and repair process, while I crack on with training the next muscle group. This blurs the lines between intra-workout and post-workout nutrition, which is sort of the goal with peri-nutrition, it’s an overall strategy.
As already discussed above, reducing muscle-protein breakdown as well as increasing protein synthesis is the key here. It’s always been known that after hard exercise, your muscle cells are screaming out for nutrients; it’s instinctive. But as more information has come to light, we realise how absolutely critical it is to supply the body what it needs as soon as possible after training.
Don’t just think about your post-workout shake, remember that muscle-protein synthesis peaks immediately after training and stays at its peak for 24 hours. So what you eat for 24 to 36 hours after that training session will also affect the quality and amount of MPS. Bear in mind also that what you eat up to 72 hours before a training session can affect that session, and you soon start to realise that peri-nutrition is more than just something you do for a good session; it’s a whole lifestyle!
So what do I recommend?
This is how I fit peri-nutrition into my regime:
I combine the following ingredients into the perfect peri-nutrition drink for my training:
I then have one third 10 minutes before training, one third throughout training and the last third as soon as I finish my session.
So, keep pre-workout carbs to a minimum, just enough to avoid blood-glucose levels dropping too much. I normally aim for around 20g of highly branched cyclic dextrin about 10 minutes before exercise, in addition to my normal pre-workout meal. This small amount of quality carbohydrate packs a lot of energy, with 1 g of HBCD averaging around 3.8 Calories per gram. The other great thing about HBCD is that they empty from the stomach quickly during exercise. So they cause less bloating and flatulence than dextrose in higher osmolality forms (such as energy drinks).
To ensure that you muscles are “saturated” with the amino acids they require during exercise, I add Peptopro, this pre-digested protein rapidly delivers the key amino acids to the muscles. As it doesn’t need to be digested, there is little effect on the gastric system, so bloating isn’t an issue. By combining this with a high quality whey protein to keep insulin levels up, you can effectively start your recovery nutrition during your training.
Adding Glutamine, goes a long way to boosting your peri-nutritional strategy, as it has been shown to help maintain muscle cell volume and hydration. It is also linked with protein synthesis, and it helps to reduce MPB by supplying free Glutamine, which your body normally achieves through catabolism (muscle cell breakdown)4.
Finally the addition of Creatine, gives my peri-nutrition a turbo boost. The benefits of Creatine are well documented. The body uses ATP as its primary fuel source, when performing powerful movements. ATP gets broken down into ADP, the great thing about Creatine is that the body can use it to turn the ADP back into ATP, thus boosting the available energy. This gives you the power to lift heavier for more reps; which of course will lead to greater exercise-induced muscular hypertrophy. One study showed an 8% increase in muscular strength when supplementing with Creatine, as well as a 14% increase in overall weightlifting performance5.
Peri-nutrition is more of a holistic approach to fuelling your body through training, rather than just a pre and post supplementation plan. Adding in good intra-workout nutrition, enhances the effect of the post-exercise muscle protein synthesis. Meaning you are maximising the chance of muscular strength and growth, whilst reducing the possibility of excess cellular damage. Pre-workout nutrition primes the body for exercise and actually ensures that the intra and post workout nutrition work more effectively. So it’s a bit like 1+1+1= 4 rather than 3. The compounded effect of a whole peri-nutrition plan, is greater than the sum of its parts!
- Esmarck, B., et al., Timing of postexercise protein intake is important for muscle hypertrophy with resistance training in elderly humans. J Physiol, 2001. 535(Pt 1): p. 301-11.
- Stuart M. Phillips, American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism Published 13 October 2008 Vol. 295 no. 4, E731.
- Robert R. Wolfe, Skeletal Muscle Protein Metabolism and Resistance Exercise. J. Nutr. February 2006 Vol. 136 no. 2 525S-528S.
- Rennie MJ, MacLennan PA, Hundal HS, Weryk B, Smith K, Taylor PM, Egan C, Watt PW. Skeletal muscle glutamine transport, intramuscular glutamine concentration, and muscle-protein turnover. Metabolism. 1989;38(8 Suppl 1):47-51.
- Eric S. Rawson, Jeff S. Volek, Effects of Creatine Supplementation and Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Weightlifting Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2003, 17(4), 822–831.