In my last two-part article, I introduced the concept behind Biotest's proposed new post-workout drink. This supplement, which has been designed in an actual, independent university research lab, is supported entirely by newly published nutritional and physiological research.
In addition, the exact product blend that will be on the shelves has undergone quite a bit of testing, using highly advanced physiological measurement devices. Biotest has done all this in order to confirm that this drink is going to do exactly what we had hoped it would do.
I've gotta give Biotest a lot of credit for making this possible (i.e. supporting this research agenda). Most supplement companies would be happy with theory alone, however, Tim Patterson told me from the start that he wouldn't market this stuff unless we knew exactly what it did. You know, it's nice to see a company finally researching a product before it comes to market, rather than after.
Anyhow, as I understand it, there have been a lot of questions generated from the last few articles. It seems that they prompted a tremendous interest in post-workout nutrition and the anabolism that can be promoted during this time. That's no surprise to me. The post-workout "window" is probably the most anabolic time of the day so if there's a time to get the nutrition right, this is it.
So, over the course of the next few weeks, I'll be answering questions about this supplement in addition to general questions about post-workout nutrition. In doing so, I hope to clear up some of the myths surrounding the enigmatic post-workout period.
Before I answer questions, however, I want to make one thing clear. Often people think that when I criticize an idea, I'm saying that the person who came up with the idea sucks; as if there were some sort of personal battle between that person and myself. This just isn't the case.
Sure I may in reality think they really do suck, but I won't make that judgment based on an idea they had. You see, as the science of training and nutrition progresses, we need to look at all the latest data to formulate our theories. Some of the old theories about post-workout nutrition may have seemed plausible when first discussed, but in light of the new data, we know they were wrong. Does that mean the guy who first started talking about them was an ass? No way! It just means that he didn't have access to the new information that we now have.
Now, let's get to the questions.
Post-Workout nutrition and Hormones
Q: According to several nutrition "experts," eating carbs after a workout will significantly reduce the growth hormone response to exercise, not to mention the other anabolic hormones. You recommend a carb and protein drink immediately after training, even when dieting. Won't that negate the GH response I've worked so hard to generate during my workout and negatively affect my fat loss?
A: This question brings up a couple of interesting points that need to be addressed once and (hopefully) for all.
First, I want to talk about the GH response to exercise – it's just not all that spectacular. While I think a healthy GH response after exercise is good, I don't think it will make or break your fat loss efforts. Check out this data:
- While the GH increase from training is pretty big in untrained subjects (10 fold increase), it's not quite as big in trained guys (4-5 fold increase) (1,2,3,4).
- Either way, the GH increase is very brief. It's at its peak immediately after exercise, is double about 15 minutes after exercise, and is back down to baseline at 30-60 minutes after exercise (2,3).
- The GH release you get during the first few hours of sleep time is about a 20-fold increase in GH, while the normal GH pulses that occur during the day are between 10 and 15 fold (5). Not only are these pulses larger than the post-exercise pulse, but they last longer, too (1-3 hours).
So, hopefully from that data, you see that even if carbs did decrease the GH response to exercise, you're not missing out on all kinds of fat loss. GH pulses after exercise are small, very brief and inferior to normal daily GH pulses.
So if you had to make the choice, would you be willing to sacrifice muscle tissue in the hopes of trying to maintain what amounts to be a minor increase in GH? I didn't think so!
Guess what, though. You don't have to make the choice. Here's the kicker:
Carbs DO NOT decrease the normal GH pulse after exercise!
I don't know how or why this myth got started, but it's gotta be dropped. Maybe the myth exists because a few endurance studies showed that infusing or drinking carbs DURING endurance exercise increased blood insulin and decreased blood GH (6,7). But how relevant is that to weight trainers and to the post-workout period?
Actually, according to 2 studies, a post-workout meal of carbs and protein INCREASED the post-workout GH release when compared to fasting after the workout (2, 8). In the first study, a 50-g protein plus 100-g carb drink taken after training increased GH response to exercise vs. no beverage. In addition, in the second study, a 1.06 g/kg carb plus 0.4 g/kg protein beverage stimulated better GH release over the next 6 hours vs. no beverage. So much for the post-workout GH myth; it looks like post-workout nutrition actually can enhance the GH release so many cherish.
But just to double check, I'm investigating this very question right now in my lab. During this pilot project, we'll be comparing the GH response to exercise with the drink vs. the GH response with only water. I'll be making other hormonal measures as well (Insulin, T, etc.). We predict that GH will either increase, or that there will be no change in the GH response to exercise plus the proposed Biotest product when compared to the response with no meal/drink. So, I really don't think GH will be decreased as you suggested in your question.
Let's talk about the other anabolic hormones, too. Insulin goes up from eating (no references needed), so post-workout nutrition clearly affects this big-time anabolic hormone, too!
Last but not least, what about the big T? Well, brother, that's where things get sketchy. Training increases blood Testosterone levels by a small percentage for a very short period of time. But this increase actually takes a dive later, despite what you do as far as nutrition. This dive persists for at least 8 hours and may persist for up to 24 hours before it recovers to its normal levels.
Why? Well, it seems that blood T levels drop off below baseline after training due potentially to T clearance from the blood. Now, no one can tell you whether that T is disappearing from the blood and going into muscle (this would be really cool) or just being metabolized in the liver and eliminated (not so cool). Remember, though, this is what happens without eating.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on the fate of the T – muscle or elimination), eating during this post-workout time does tend to decrease T even further than just nothing alone. But it doesn't matter whether you eat right after training or up to 2 hours later, the T still goes down. Either way, once you finally eat, T decreases. So my advice would be to forget this small decrease in T and get anabolic with aminos, BCAA, carbohydrates, insulin, and GH.
The take home message is as follows: Post workout nutrition seems like it may actually increase GH response to exercise, NOT decrease it. And, to boot, insulin goes up.
Although we don't know what's really happening to T, it shouldn't be a problem. I'll be posting the data in T-mag in the near future from trials in our lab.
- Journal of Applied Physiology; 88 (3), 982-992, 1999.
- Journal of Applied Physiology; 85 (4), 1544-1555, 1998.
- European Journal of Endocrinology; 141 (1), 22-26, 1999.
- European Journal of Applied Physiology; 78 (1), 69-76, 1998.
- Science; 177, 1205, 1972.
- Journal of Applied Physiology; 87 (1), 124-131, 1999.
- European Journal of Applied Physiology; 80 (2), 92-99, 1999.
- Journal of Applied Physiology; 76 (2), 839-845, 1994.
Q: If the post-workout drink you designed has all these herbs and amino acids to stimulate insulin release after the workout, couldn't it actually lead to a big sugar crash? Some guy I know tried insulin before and had a couple of bad experiences with sugar crashes.
A: The "sugar crashes" you're referring to are actually situations where blood glucose concentrations decrease below a "normal" level, leading to a massive fight or flight response to try to get more glucose into the blood.
Epinephrine and norepinephrine are released to get the body back to some homeostasis and normal levels of blood glucose. What happens when you take insulin injections is that you add a large amount of a hormone that clears the blood of glucose and dumps it into the muscle rather quickly. The problem is that when blood glucose gets too low, the brain can't function very well and this can actually be dangerous.
As a result, the body tries to make the liver or muscle give up some of that glucose to feed the brain. But if enough insulin is present, this can't be accomplished and some serious problems could result. Remember, though, a quick way to prevent this from happening is to eat some carbohydrates. The glucose will appear in the blood and there will be no problems.
I know several renegade bodybuilders who have injected themselves with insulin in order to take advantage of insulin's huge anabolic effects. But some of the dopes have gotten the carbohydrate timing wrong and nearly collapsed from low blood glucose values.
I remember when one particularly huge buddy of mind forgot to take his post-insulin carbohydrates and went out to eat at a sushi restaurant. Since he and his date had to wait in a long line, the insulin started to drop his blood glucose into coma territory. The big SOB had to run into the restaurant (sweating, pale, and shaking – the body's attempt to normalize blood glucose) and demand some sugary food before he passed out and died. He got the food and lived to see another day, but I'm certain that he'll never forget to take his post-insulin carbs again.
But this won't happen with a high carb, moderate protein drink with insulin secretagogues. Remember, you're drinking carbs, so when insulin goes up, the carbs are there to prevent low glucose levels.
In addition, the nutrients that we've used have an additional "safety valve." These particular nutrients, which act as insulin secretagogues, are much safer than injected insulin because they only act in proportion to the levels of glucose in the blood. What that means is that if blood glucose is too low, they don't spike insulin all that high. If blood glucose is high, they give you a big insulin spike. So you see, they allow the body to regulate itself and prevent "sugar crashes."
Injected insulin promotes its effects whether you've eaten carbs or not and therefore can get you into trouble. But as I said, secretagogues act differently than the stuff you've gotta stick in your body with a needle. Here's a simple way to think about it. Secretagogues basically ask the body to increase insulin levels. If it's safe to do so, the body will do it. If it's not safe to do, the body won't.
After all, however, the very design of the drink is to cause a synergistic insulin release between the carbs, protein, and secretagogues so that the insulin release will be bigger than what the carbs alone will promote. And sure, this may lead to a lower blood sugar than you normally would have after a workout, but this is by no means dangerous. As I said, in this situation the body can easily adjust to the insulin release and glucose levels. Just to be sure however, part of our lab tests investigated this very question and we found no negative effects and certainly no life-threatening sugar crashes in our volunteers.
Q: It seems like the current trend in post-workout nutrition is very high protein. Even you recommended a high protein intake after the workout in your protein roundtable. Why isn't the post-workout beverage you designed high in protein? Also, what are whey-protein hydrolysates?
A: You guys are really trying to rub it in aren't you! As I said a couple of weeks ago, after looking at the newest research, I have to admit I may have been wrong. The Protein Roundtable was held back in August or September and since then I've discovered some new information about protein supplementation.
Yes, I'm very well educated and knowledgeable in training, nutrition, and supplementation. But I'm not afraid to admit that sometimes my initial theories may have been incorrect. In the case of my recommendations during the Protein Roundtable, I don't think that we were so much incorrect as much as we were just a bit inefficient in the way of accomplishing our goals.
We recommended very high protein intake after training (in the neighborhood of 30-40% of your daily protein intake right after training). Now, although I'm sure this will definitely offer some benefits in terms of recovery and muscle mass gain, I don't think it's the most efficient way of recovering from a training session. New data suggests that lower protein intakes are all that's required when coupled with some carbs and a big insulin spike (intakes along the lines of 0.4 g of protein/kg of body weight). So the bottom line is that you'd probably do fine to eat very high protein after the workout, but if you go overboard, the excess may be counter productive.
Before I describe this, however, I'd like to discuss what we were originally thinking at the time of the Protein Roundtable. During this time, some new nutritional information suggested that "protein pulse" feeding would be more efficient than just dividing your protein up equally over the course of the day. This data, however, was collected in old women. Literally. I don't need to tell you that there are some differences between old women and young male bodybuilders.
Using this data, however, we theorized that if it worked for older women, then it MIGHT work for bodybuilders. In addition, we thought that since the body needs more protein after a workout, a good time to do a "protein pulse" would be after a workout. So you can see, we took a couple of Evel Knievel-sized leaps of faith. The first leap was from old fat women to bodybuilders. The second leap was from normal meal times to post-workout periods. Now I know that this isn't the ideal way to come up with training and nutritional theories, but that's how exercise nutrition operates. We just don't get enough funding to do all the research we want to do.
Since there are so few studies being done on weightlifters, we have to borrow the research from other populations to theorize about what we should do. Since the original article, however, I've thankfully come upon a solid body of evidence done in weightlifters and endurance athletes that tells us what we should do after the workout period. No more theories here.
It's pretty clear from this new research that the ideal post-workout beverage would target 3 factors; glycogen synthesis, protein synthesis, and protein breakdown. And it's evident that the perfect way to do this is to consume about 0.8 g of carbs/kg; 0.4 g/kg of protein hydrolysate; a specific ratio of BCAA; and insulin secretagogues (amino acids).
Obviously, with the new drink, we designed the post-workout formula to match this research and to match all of the very, specific micro details of quantity and quality used in the literature. This means that the drink supplies the exact nutrient ratios to promote the most efficient use of carbs and protein. No extra protein and carbs are required so there's no longer a need to boatload 100 g of protein immediately after a workout to promote protein synthesis (unless you weigh 250 kg or 550 lbs).
As I stated in my last article, too much protein kicks up glucagon. Glucagon antagonizes the effects of insulin so it may prevent the synergistic insulin release and some of insulin's beneficial effects on the muscle. It may also actually convert some of those cherished amino acids to glucose. Not good!
Another thing to consider is that protein hydrolysates are partially "digested" proteins that are much more easily absorbed. This partial digestion means that the protein molecules have been slightly broken down to facilitate their processing in the GI tract.
Since hydrolysates are the most quickly and efficiently absorbed proteins (about 97% of hydrolysates are absorbed while about 85% of intact proteins are absorbed), the hydrolysates are not only more quickly available to promote recovery, but about 12% better absorbed than regular protein. Just to give you an idea of speed of absorption, research has shown that 70% of soy hydrolysates are absorbed within 30 minutes, while only 60% of regular intact soy protein was absorbed after 4 hours (not that the proposed formula has any soy in it!).
Last, but not least, although you didn't ask, I would like to mention something that most guys who know about protein are talking about – the taste. Traditionally, whey hydrolysates, while dissolving very well in water, have been branded the nastiest proteins on the block, their bitterness being their least desirable feature. So if you're thinking about making up a post-workout protein drink on your own, consider the fact that it will probably taste very nasty!
So what about the taste of the new formula; is that nasty too? Of course not. Although I don't pretend to know how they do it, the Biotest flavor geniuses created, as Cosmo Kramer would say, "an orgiastic feast for the senses." This formula has turned out to be one of the best-tasting thin protein drinks I've ever tasted. And the added bonus is how darn water soluble it is. It only takes a spoon to stir it up and dissolve it completely. This is perfect because the more soluble the drink, the better the total absorption as well as the rate of absorption.
So basically my post workout recommendations are based on using a highly efficient protein source and a very synergistic blend of nutrients to stimulate insulin release. This will eliminate the need to over-consume protein in the post-workout period in order to try to stimulate protein synthesis.
Julia Childs Pumping Iron
Q: I'm thinking it might be cheaper to go out and buy all the ingredients you mention and mix up my own "home brew" post-workout protein formula. Any precautions/suggestions?
A: Although you certainly could go out and do your own "kitchen chemistry" – heck, I've been doing the same thing, at least until this formula was completed – I think you'll find it more expensive and much more of a hassle to do so. Let me explain why.
Since this product contains very specific high-quality nutrients, like protein hydrolysates, glucose and glucose polymers, and specific, well-researched ratios of BCAA and insulin secretagogues, you'll be buying a whole bunch of hard to find ingredients. This can get time consuming and expensive. If you want to do it, however, give it a shot. But I think that in the end, you'll pay more and get less.
First, let's talk taste. From my understanding, most hydrolysates and BCAAs taste absolutely putrid and bitter. Hydrolysates and BCAAs are very bitter by nature and if they're not "flavor masked" (meaning specific flavor agents are added to mask the bitter flavor), they're gonna taste really bad. This is where this formula is awesome. The flavor guys at Biotest have again created another big winner by completely masking the taste of the hydrolysates and BCAA.
I know some nutrition "experts" have claimed that if BCAA and hydrolysates aren't bitter, then they're not good quality, but that's a totally ignorant statement. Food experts can cover up the bad taste of anything (well, maybe not fish oils, but almost anything) with the right combination of "masks." So if you do try to mix up your own post-workout drink, you'd better be ready to cringe every time you try to drink it.
The second problem with mixing up your own batch is that you'll never get the exact ratio of hydrolysates to glucose to glucose polymers to BCAA to insulin secretagogues that we used for this formula. Nor are you going to get the exact ratio of the BCAAs to each other (leucine to isoleucine to valine).
What do the ratios matter, you ask? Well, it's been shown several times that these ratios are critical to increasing insulin release, glycogen synthesis, and protein synthesis while minimizing protein breakdown. While taking some of each nutrient might give some benefit, there clearly are (and I hate to use this cliché, but it really is true) drug-like effects with the right synergistic ratios.
So my final response to your question is that while I obviously favor the Biotest formula, you could always try whipping up your own batch at home according to some of the recommendations we've made in previous articles. But the drawbacks are that you actually may pay more, you'll probably hate the taste of your concoction, and you won't be able to duplicate the exact ratios used in the research.