Aaron Gilbert. Photo by William Lange

By Aaron Gilbert

When we work out intensely, we damage tissues at the microlevel, and we use fuel.

This is what ultimately makes us stronger, leaner, fitter and more muscular, but in the short term it requires repair.

Repair and rebuilding occurs through the breakdown of old, damaged proteins (aka protein breakdown) and the construction of new ones (aka protein synthesis) — a process known collectively as protein turnover.

Muscle protein synthesis is increased slightly (or unchanged) after resistance workouts, while protein breakdown increases dramatically. We’re doing a lot more breaking-down than building-up.

The relationship between these two parameters (rate of muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown) represents the metabolic basis for muscle growth.

What to eat

Post-workout nutrition requires two things:

  1. Protein to aid in protein synthesis
  2. Carbohydrates to help replace muscle glycogen (and to enhance the role of insulin in transporting nutrients into cells)

You could certainly eat a whole food meal that meets these requirements after exercise. However, whole food meals aren’t always practical.

Some people aren’t hungry immediately after exercise. Whole food digests slowly, and we want nutrients to be available quickly. A whole-food meal that requires refrigeration might be less practical.

On the other hand, consuming a liquid form of nutrition that contains rapidly digesting carbohydrates (e.g. maltodextrin, dextrose, glucose) and proteins (e.g. protein hydrolysates or isolates)

  • might accelerate recovery by utilizing insulin for nutrient transport into cells;
  • can result in rapid digestion and absorption; and
  • is often better tolerated during and after workouts.

Data indicate that it may only take about 20 grams of protein after a workout to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

Once your workout is complete, have a whole food meal within an hour or two.

If priority No. 1 is to lose body fat, use only BCAAs as a workout drink, and five to 15 grams per hour of training. (If you weigh 200-plus pounds consume closer to 15 grams; less than 200 pounds, closer to five grams). If you’re leaner but still want to lose fat, choose a smaller dose (like 1/2 dose) of the protein plus carb combination, or opt for BCAAs.


Aaron Gilbert, CSCS, owns Longevity Athletics.
[email protected]

This column appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.