Many people start a new year with resolutions involving diet and exercise, often with the goal of getting into shape.
The right diet and exercise regime are both important when you're trying to build and maintain muscle. No matter what age you are, physical activity - especially resistance exercise - plays an important role in maintaining muscle health.
Exercise and muscle soreness
It's easy to get carried away when you're getting started, but at any stage, if you push yourself hard during your workouts, you'll experience sore muscles.
This is due to tiny tears that occur in the muscle tissue during exercise, allowing new muscle cell growth. But it's not actually the microscopic tears that cause the pain. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is a side effect of the muscle repair process.
A higher intensity workout often leads to larger muscle tears and therefore sorer muscles afterwards. The speed of your recovery will affect your physical progress in the days and weeks ahead.
Repairing muscle damage
Your nutrient intake before and after exercise plays a crucial role in repairing muscle damage. Many people choose to take pre and post workout supplements such as protein powders to speed up muscle recovery.
In this post, we've listed supplements that are often taken around workouts, and some foods, too, which may aid post workout muscle recovery.
A healthy diet plays an important role in muscle recovery (Photo: Pixabay CC0)
If your goal is to build muscle, consuming whey protein post-workout may help your muscles to recover more quickly.
In the body, proteins break down faster during a heavy workout session. This is where diet and supplements come into play.
Protein-rich foods and whey protein supplements provide the protein the body needs to repair muscles and build new muscle fibres. This results in muscle growth.
But which type of protein will serve your body best?
Whey protein comes from whey, the watery component of milk. There are two main forms of whey protein: whey concentrate and whey isolate.
“Whey protein isolate is the form we recommend to take post workout, because it is one of the purest form of whey protein, with a protein concentration of more than 90%,” says Love Life Supplements’ CEO Ben Law. "This has been supported by various scientific studies." Whey Isolate also contains low concentrations of fat and lactose.
Ben Law, CEO and Founder of Love Life Supplements
In addition to aiding muscle recovery, studies show that consuming whey also produces a spike in blood insulin levels. This helps control the blood glucose and replenish the muscles' energy stores.
Products containing whey protein powder are often consumed after exercise, as the amino acids aid muscle building and promote recovery. Consuming a protein shake or bar may be more convenient when you don't have time to prepare a protein-rich meal.
Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)
Amino acids are small organic molecules and the building blocks for proteins. There are 20 in total that make up muscle protein, and these also play a role in building muscle. Our bodies need them to repair the muscle damage that occurs during high intensity workouts.
Of these 20 amino acids, officially nine are known as essential amino acids*, meaning the body cannot produce them itself. It must therefore obtain them from the protein in the food and drink we consume. By providing our body with EAAs through protein-rich post workout shakes, for example, the body can carry out repairs more quickly. This may result in a speedier muscle recovery after working out.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Of the nine EAAs that our body cannot make, three of these are the more complex BCAAs, leucine, isoleucine and valine. The results of a recent study showed that consuming a BCAA supplement may speed up muscle recovery.
It found that consuming 5.6g of BCAAs post workout increased muscle protein synthesis (the process of building muscle mass) by 22%.
However, although BCAA supplements help support muscle recovery, another study stated that consuming BCAAs isn't enough to stimulate the muscle building process. All nine EAAs and eleven non-essential amino acids must be present in adequate amounts for optimal results. At Love Life Supplements we strongly concur with this view, which is why we have included EAAs in our Refuel Post Workout Shake and our Adapt Pre Workout Drink contains BCAAs.
This is why many body-builders choose to consume pre workout and post workout supplements containing EAAs and BCAAs. These are usually in addition to following a high-protein diet.
LLS Refuel post workout protein shake is packed with nutrients to help support muscle repair.
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the blood and muscle cells. Its functions in the body include supporting the immune and central nervous system, gastrointestinal function, and insulin secretion.
It also supplies around 35% of the nitrogen required by the muscle to synthesise proteins. It therefore plays an important role in post-workout muscle recovery and muscle growth.
Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning that the body can normally produce the amount of glutamine it needs.
However, during intense exercise, glutamine levels in the body decrease and the body cannot produce enough to replenish it. In this case, it may be beneficial to take a glutamine supplement.
Taurine is another amino acid that occurs naturally in the body. When you repeatedly contract your muscles while under pressure from some sort of weight, this is an eccentric muscle contraction. It is this type of exercise that causes tears in the muscle fibres.
A recent study conducted on a group of males suggested that taurine supplementation may help to speed up muscle recovery. In this case, it was taken twice a day for three days after eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. The study suggested that further research would be needed, particularly regarding the effect of taurine on women under the same conditions.
Another study (also only conducted on males) concluded that taurine may reduce muscle soreness and muscle damage caused by high intensity exercise. In this case, it was taken in combination with BCAA as both a pre and post workout supplement.
High quality carbohydrates
The LLS Refuel powder contains gluten-free oat flour and waxy maize starch, a high quality carbohydrate source. Oats have a well-balanced nutritional composition (66% carbohydrates, 17% protein, 7% fat and 11% fibre). In addition, waxy maize starch is a fast-absorbing carbohydrate, meaning it can quickly replenish the energy stores in your muscles. They also help to spike insulin levels and promote muscle protein synthesis.
These ingredients can also be found in rice, barley, corn, and porridge oats.
The findings of one study suggested that taking a curcumin supplement may reduce muscle damage and perceived muscle soreness. It did, however, state that more research would be needed to find out exactly how it helps muscle recovery.
The following supplements may be better for performance and endurance
There have been conflicting results from scientific studies about whether creatine supplementation helps with post workout muscle recovery.
This study concluded that there was a significant improvement in the rate of muscle recovery after participants consumed a creatine monohydrate supplement.
However, another study found that oral creatine supplementation didn't reduce muscle damage or aid recovery after resistance exercise.
Most studies, however, do agree that creatine can be effective as a performance enhancer during physical exercise. There is disagreement about whether it is best to take creatine pre or post workout. However, the general consensus is that it’s fine to take it at any time during the day.
Creatine may help enhance your performance during physical exercise (CC0)
Beta alanine supplementation has been shown through scientific studies to enhance muscle performance and endurance levels during exercise. However, a recent study concluded that it does not improve muscle recovery following a high intensity resistance training session.
So as with creatine, beta alanine may be more useful as a pre-workout supplement for endurance than as a post-workout supplement.
Should I take a post workout protein supplement?
This depends on your training goals. We've been discussing the best supplements for muscle recovery, so it’s important to analyse the content of protein supplements.
The LLS Refuel Post Workout powder contains the gold standard whey protein isolate, UltraWhey 90. It is non-denatured (meaning the proteins have not been damaged by processing) and ultra filtrated, resulting in 93% protein. It also contains additional essential amino acids and l-glutamine, which studies have shown to improve post workout recovery.
If you wish to speed up muscle recovery and maintain your workout routine, you may benefit from drinking a protein shake.
One study suggested that it's fine to consume a protein supplement immediately before or after a high intensity workout session. You could therefore choose which option is more convenient for you.
A few foods that may help muscle recovery
In addition to nutritional supplements, these foods may also help your muscles to recover more quickly after working out.
Green tea is known for its antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties. This study stated that although it doesn't reduce post workout muscle soreness, green tea extract may help muscles recover after exercise.
It's just as well we've included Matcha Green Tea in our Refuel Post Workout supplement!
Avocados contain monounsaturated fats (also known as 'good fats'), which aid muscle repair. They also contain B vitamins that help to metabolise the proteins and carbs needed for healing your muscles.
Eggs are a source of high-quality protein, as well as a range of vitamins and minerals. Many of these help stimulate muscle growth and contribute towards general health. These nutrients include vitamin B12, folate, pantothenic acid (aiding carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism), iron, vitamin E, and chromium.
One study demonstrated that eating eggs straight after resistance exercise resulted in greater stimulation of muscle protein synthesis (and thus muscle recovery and growth). A strong argument for eating eggs and avocado as part of your post workout nutrition.
Grilled lean meats such as chicken and fish are an excellent source of protein. Eat them as part of a pre or post-workout meal.
Should I take a protein supplement before or after working out?
Whether or not you choose to take a protein supplement before or after your workout is a personal choice. If you’re still deciding on the best workout supplement for you, keep in mind the ingredients we’ve discussed in this post.
*Although there are officially nine essential amino acids, it is worth mentioning that histidine is not actually essential. This is because in the presence of the other eight, it raises naturally in the body. For this reason, our EAA supplements do not contain histidine.