As a strength coach, one of the most frequently asked questions by gym goers and athletes alike is: “what supplements should I be taking before and after my workout?”
This idea of workout specific nutrition though popularised by the commercialisation of protein shakes (cleverly endorsed by sports stars and bodybuilders), is not a novel concept. As early as 1940, whey protein has been used specifically as a workout aid to enhance muscle growth in athletes, and by the early 1980s, peri-workout nutrition had evolved to become a precise science adopted by top coaches such as Charles Poliquin to improve athletic performance.
However, while the benefits of workout specific nutrition are well documented, how well a person responds to a given supplement is dependent on numerous factors ranging from their training age, type of training performed to their individual genotype. Furthermore, it is my firm belief that one’s workout nutrition is only worth their workout invested. Simply speaking, a workout cocktail will not offer maximal benefits should the workout not be carried out properly.
Keeping this in mind, here are some supplements I have found to be universally helpful to anyone wanting to push harder and recover faster:
Caffeine – is a great stimulant that is best taken 45 minutes before the workout. Research has shown caffeine to enhance mood, increase adrenaline levels, increase maximal strength and decrease one’s perception of pain (Now, that’s one great way to push harder!)
What you also ought to know is that contrary to popular belief, espressos contain little or no caffeine, given that the caffeine cannot be effectively extracted from the brief amount of time boiling water runs through it. Instead if you want caffeine from a coffee fix, use a percolated coffee, or alternatively, a caffeine supplement like Java Stim from the Poliquin range that we stock in Melbourne will give you that edge.
Beta-Alanine – is another good pre workout supplement. It is an amino acid that increases strength and power output as well as delays muscular fatigue during training. A good dose of this supplement will give you a distinctive tingle across the face, chest and arms.
L-Carnitine – works within the mitochondria (energy producing centres of the cell) to burn fat, as well as increases the number and sensitivity of androgen receptor sites. Simply speaking, its purpose is to shred fat while increasing testosterone uptake during training – a combination that will get you leaner and stronger.
Alpha-GPC – (Alpha-Glycerylphosphorylcholine) serves to increase maximal strength by up to 7% pre-workout. It also Increases growth hormone production for muscle growth and regenerates the pituitary gland.
BCAAs – branched chain amino acids are a pre-requisite for individuals looking to get the best results from their workouts. Comprising of 3 amino acids: Leucine, Isosleucine and Valine, this supplement provides the main source of fuel for muscular contractions, aids recovery, decreases visceral fat and increases the testosterone to cortisol ratio while working out. Strength Coach Charles Poliquin recommends a dosage between 20 -40 grams of BCAAs during a workout for optimal results (In fact, he even goes as far as saying one’s workout efforts will be futile should BCAAs not be consumed!).
Lysine – is an essential amino acid (one that the body cannot naturally produce, and needs to be sourced from foods or supplements) that tends to get depleted during a workout. Research has shown that supplementing with 3-5 grams of lysine thoughout enables the body to maintain optimal conditions for carnitine to function, helps muscle recovery and promotes calcium absorption for stronger bones, tendons and cartilage.
As soon as the workout is complete (which ideally should last between 40 minutes and an hour tops for most individuals), aim to consume your post workout nutrition so as to optimise that window of recovery.
High Quality Whey – isolate/hydrolysate (provided you are not lactose intolerant) is abundant in BCAAs and protein for recovery and has the added benefit of being highly insulogenic , i.e., spikes insulin levels post-workout. This works two-fold: to decreases cortisol (a primary stress hormone that is catabolic) and insulin being a highly anabolic hormone, encourages muscle growth. For my athletes, I normally recommend a serving of 0.6 g of protein to 1 kg body weight.
Magnesium – is a cheap method used to decrease cortisol after a workout. This in turn can help to increase testosterone levels post workout to optimise muscle growth. Another alternative is to take 800mg of Phosphatidyl Serine.
(Check out Charles poliquin’s Blog at www.strengthsensei.com for more information on the benefits of Phosphatidyl Serine post-workout)
Vitamin E – (Specifically gamma-tocopherol) works synergistically with essential fatty acids to protect muscle from oxidative damage which may be created during the workout.
such as pomegranate or cherry juice, can help with providing antioxidants for cellular damage and sugars to create an anabolic environment for recovery.
Simple Carbohydrates – like dextrose powders should be consumed by athletes who are “carb worthy” (in the standards of Charles Poliquin, less than 10% body fat!). Simple sugars increase post workout insulin levels, creating a highly anabolic environment for muscle growth. Furthermore, adding protein to carbs post workout helps to increase protein synthesis up to 31% and glycogen synthesis up to 36%! The recommended amount is 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight (Again, this is dependent on factors like training volume – The more reps, the higher the need for sugars post-workout). Products likeQuadricarb from the Poliquin Range offers 4 different types of simple sugars in one hit that facilitates both a rapid and continuous uptake of sugars into muscles following the workout.