Post Work Out Nutrition: For resistance training


The purpose of this blog is to raise awareness about how to speed up recovery rate and provide nutrition for muscle growth.

Nutrition and Dietetics was not my first and only major. In fact, I did declare Exercise Science as my major for 3 semesters with Nutrition on top of it since I wanted to be come an Registered Dietitian with emphasis in Sports Nutrition. It turns out that I enjoyed individual sports (marathon, triathlon, swimming, etc) and Sports Nutrition in the United States prepares me to work on teams and Occupational Therapies. That’s when I decided to drop Exercise Science and claimed Dietetics as my major, although I was only 30 credits away from finishing the Bachelor of Science. Three semesters of Exercise Science gave me good understanding of Exercise Psychology, Health Promotion, and Sports Nutrition. I thought I would never use this knowledge on anyone but myself, but Thy, a pal from Face Book became interested in Nutrition and Exercise. So here this blog is written to answer her questions sent to me a few days ago. Hopefully I can get to write more about Pre Work Out Nutrition in 1 month when I finish the Vitamin series.

1/ The first question: What do I eat to grow muscle?

The answer is none…Because they ask the wrong question. The muscles grow because of what we physically do to them. I guess you can inject steroids in animals for muscle growth, but still that does not help me to get 6 packs if I simply don’t do resistant training. Wanna look tough? You must do it tough way: lift the weights. Anyway, nutrition does help with the recovery growth and provide important elements for better growth (I’m gonna go ahead and provide it now: leucine and insulin).

2/ The second question: How does muscle growth occur through resistant training?

Basically, resistance exercises force muscles to work beyond their limit to complete the task (of lifting weights). When that challenge happens, your muscles either can manage to do the work or just give up and you may drop the weight on your head. If the muscles manage to do the job, it pays a price: the muscles should look like a battle field if we somehow can look at it under microscopic. Muscles are filled with a bunch of by products (feel that ache and soreness immediately or the day after? that’s due to the by products of chemical reaction, including free radical activities).

The muscle do adapt to the challenge and grow stronger (thanks to Nature Mother), which means you must keep the challenge up or your muscles will stop growing or even worse, reverse to atrophy stage which does happen through natural aging process.

3/ Third question: What are benefits of resistant training?

Ok, if you desire 6 packs and well defined muscles, you have to earn it through resistant training 3 days a week with well designed workout programs. To those who want to lose weight, adding weight training will speed up the time it takes to lose certain amount of body fat. First, when your body is damaged, it must heal the wound. The healing and/or growing process takes tremendous energy that the body can demand up to 30% of daily calories to maintain normal body functions and healing/growing process at the same time (that’s why pregnant women need 300 kcal more than before they become pregnant because the body has to feed the fetus). In other words, when your body must heal the damaged muscles and grow them back, the body burns more energy- which is good for those who want to lose weight.

Second, the body has anywhere between 55-75% of water, which means the rest is composed of the following: fat and muscle and organs. Needless to say, fat is the tissue that burns the least amount of calories and stubborn to be taken out for energy use. On the contrary, the muscle and organ burn a lot of energy. Actually, when I studied about lung diseases, my professor challenged us with the calculation for patients on ventilation. We used a typical formula and sure enough we all got it wrong. Finally, the professor said something: your are alive because you breath, and you burn at least 800 calories through 24 hour laying still in bed. So yes organs burn a lot of calories.

Unfortunately for us, we can’t increase the quantity of organs, or their mass. Fortunately, we can increase the muscle mass through resistant training. When you do have more muscle mass than you ever did before, that mass just sits there and demands more calories fed to them to sit like that on your skeletal frame. That is silver lining: you burn more calories while sitting on the couch compared to another person of the same weight but with more body fat percentage than you (because you have more muscle mass percentage then that person does).

4/ The last question: What role does nutrition play in muscle growth?

The body on its own can manage to heal and grow muscles back after a work out session. However, the recovery process will happen much quicker if we provide the right nutrition at the right time.

When we work out, all the cells are open for maximal cellular activities (things move in and out of cells). When you finish the workout, the cells still stay open for a while before they start shutting down. This window is open for about 30-60 minutes after workout. It just means that we have the opportunity to take advantage of this window to maximize nutrition absorption. When the window is closed, your body still works hard to heal, but it’s slowed down.

Some studies said it’s not that important to race to the post work out meal and gulf down within 1 hour after work out, but it appears that all gym rats walk around with whey protein milk shake after the work out. I do not know what happens to them when they stop doing what they’ve been doing, but they have certainly done the right thing so far, haven’t they?

Now let’s talk about two things: What to eat? And…How much?

The Post Work Out Nutrition is all about the foods you consume within 1 hour after the work out. Actually, time is a sensitive and precious matter that we should not overlook: the faster, the better. Well just like when you accidentally hit your hand in the wall, the first 1 minute the pain is much sharper than 3 minutes later. Anyway, the answer for what to eat is simple: foods with high glycemic index and rich in protein particularly leucine amino acids with the ration of carbohydrate to protein as 2:1. (Some die hard body builder will go so far as to increase this ratio to 3.5 to 1)

The second component: How Much of it? Well, that, of course, depends on individual make ups. I mean your current body weight. As I said above, you need carbohydrate from foods with high glycemic index and protein in certain ration 2:1. So, in order to determine overall what you should ingest within 1 hour post work out, you should start with determining how much protein you need to eat before you can estimate the amount of carbohydrates.

Step 1: Calculate your TOTAL PROTEIN NEED FOR 1 DAY:

I can go ahead and give you the estimation 20-40 grams of protein to consume right after work out, but I think it’s better to educate people how much protein they need in 1 day to maximize muscle growth. Well, as I said earlier, the body still grows after that 1 hour window shuts down. And, the muscle growth depends on protein intake. Therefore, you should know how much you must eat a day.

Rule of thumb: If you want to maintain your current muscle mass, 0.8 g of protein per kg of body weight. If you want to maximize muscle growth, you need about 1.2-2 g protein per kg body weight. Back in college days, my professor aimed at 1.8 g of protein per kg body weight. It’s best not to eat more than 2 g/kg body weight because the extra calories from protein consumption may contribute to fat gain and may put more heavy work loads on the kidneys. So, I’m gonna use 1.8g/kg body weight for myself or when I calculate for somebody else.

Example: Current body weight: 41 kg. You need a total of: 41 x 1.8g= 74 g protein in one day.

Step 2: Calculate the amount of protein to eat post work out:

Immediately after the work out, you can eat 30%-40% of this total amount

30% x 74 g protein= 22 g

40% x 74= 30 g

Step 3: What kind of protein?

Currently, leucine is the best amino acid that promotes muscle growth. Whey protein appears to be the source with decent level of leucine. Whey protein is pretty much the by product found in milk curd during cheese production process. Whey protein is very easy to purchase in countries with huge fitness industry. I am not sure how easy it is to find whey protein powder in Vietnam. In case you can’t purchase it for whatever reason, chicken breast is also a good replacement (there are about 30 g of protein for a portion of 100 g chicken breast)

Step 4: Calculate the amount of carbohydrate based on the protein need.

Now you already know how much protein you need to consume right after the work out. Remember the ratio of carbohydrate to protein must be 2:1. If you need 30 g of protein, you then will double that amount to 60 g of carbohydrate. You can also use this ratio to calculate the total amount of carbohydrate you eat in day.

Step 5: Determine the type of carbohydrate:

As I said earlier, you need carbs that come from foods with high glycemic index. The higher GI, the better, to stimulate fast release of insulin which plays important role in glycogen formation in muscle.

Since this is not the post about diabetes, I will not provide the list of foods with high GI, but I’ll give a few example: white rice, egg pasta, potatoes, white crackers, sugar, honey, cookies, cakes, candies, candy bars etc.

Chemically, carbohydrates have many faces and forms. The recommended types of carbs you need in this case are MALTODEXTRIN and DEXTROSE in the ratio 1:1. Dextrose has another name as GLUCOSE. You can order these online or from a nutrition store. Or you can try to get them through natural sources. Dextrose is available in corn syrup and honey. Dextrose can also be found in dried apricot, dried dates, and raisins, which I prefer these sources better than corn syrup and honey because they at least provide some other nutrient such as potassium (dried apricot is the way to go) and some dietary fibers unlike the syrup and honey.

Dextrose content per 100 grams

Raisin: 27 g dextrose

Dried apricot: 33 g dextrose

Dried dates: 33 g dextrose

Honey: 36 g dextrose.

Now, maltodextrin is a polysaccharide that is produced from corn starch, potato starch, waxy maize, and of course wheat starch. In food industry, maltodextrin is hidden everywhere because it’s used as a food additive or preservative. Say, Splenda sweetener also has maltodextrin. Cut long story short, if you can’t easily find the dextrose and maltodextrin from natural sources, you simply need to remember 1 thing: the point is to raise insulin. So, if you need 30 g of protein, you will need 60 g of high glycemic index carbs. You can use 60 g of table sugar to get those 60 g high GI carbs. If you can get whey powder, the product is more than likely filled with sugar. In that case, you need to look for the sugar in the Nutrition Fact label, and figure out how much more sugar from your kitchen shall be added to meet the ratio carbohydrate to protein 2:1.


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