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FitTips for One and All - Vol. II, No.6

FitTips for One and All
Volume II, Number 6

Presented by Fitness for One and All
Director: Gary F. Zeolla

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Post-Workout Drink

Part One: Carbs and Protein

By Gary F. Zeolla


The consumption of nutrients immediately post-workout is absolutely essential. It helps the body recover from a grueling workout, replenish glycogen stores, repair muscle tissue, reduces post-workout soreness, raises testosterone and growth hormone levels, and reduces cortisol levels.

And the sooner nutrients are consumed and absorbed, the sooner the body can go from a catabolic (muscle destroying) state to an anabolic (muscle building) state. It is for this reason that a liquid meal is preferred to solid food. With a drink, one can put the dry ingredients into a bottle, and mix it with water and drink it immediately after a workout. And a liquid meal is digested and absorbed quicker than a solid foods meal.

But what should the post-workout drink contain? There are many commercial "recovery" drinks available. But I have never found one that I particularly like. So I have spent a lot of time researching and experimenting on myself as to what ingredients are best for the post-workout drink. So in this two-part article, I will discuss what I have found works best.

Carbohydrate Source

The body's main priority post-workout is to replenish glycogen stores. The body stores glycogen in two places: in the liver and in muscle tissue. Of these two, the muscles can store a far greater amount, 250 to 400 grams, while the liver can only store about 100 grams. Moreover, it is primarily muscle glycogen that is depleted during a workout.

So the goal post-workout more specifically is to restore muscle glycogen. The body will even break down muscle tissue for this purpose if carbohydrates are not available. For this reason, it is vital to include carbohydrates in the post-workout drink. But what form of carbs is best for this purpose?

Post-workout is the one time that high-glycemic carbs are preferred. This term refers to carbs that are high on the glycemic index. This is a measure of how quickly a food raises blood sugar and hence insulin levels. Normally, it is best to eat lower glycemic foods so as not to initiate an insulin spike. But post-workout, the exact opposite is true. The elevated insulin levels will help to drive nutrients into the muscle cells.

Moreover, speed is of the essence. It is vital to get the carbs to the muscle cells as quickly as possible. And again, high-glycemic carbs are preferred to lower glycemic carbs for this purpose.

Usually, when one thinks of high-glycemic carbs one thinks of simple sugars. However, most simple sugars would not be beneficial to consume post-workout. Non-beneficial sugars would include fructose, sucrose, and lactose.

As for the first, fructose ("fruit sugar") is very low-glycemic as compared to other sugars. So it is not digested quickly and does not significantly raise insulin levels. Moreover, fructose cannot be used by the body to restore muscle glycogen. However, it can be used to restore liver glycogen, so in small amounts it might be okay, but it should not be the primary carb. What this means is that fruit juice is not a good source of carbs for the post-workout drink.

As for sucrose ("table sugar"), it is a disaccharide consisting of one molecule of fructose and one of glucose. So sucrose is half fructose. And again, fructose cannot be used to restore muscle glycogen. And half of your carbs from fructose would not be beneficial.

So foods high in sugar (sucrose) content or high in high fructose corn syrup content like soda would not be beneficial post-workout. So the need for high glycemic carbs post-workout does not give the exerciser an excuse to consume junk food post-workout. You won't be doing your body any good, nor will you be giving it what it needs.

As for lactose ("milk sugar"), its glycemic rating is moderate, higher than fructose but lower than sucrose. It is also a disaccharide constituting of one molecule of galactose and one of glucose. So it is half galactose. And again, galactose can be used by the body to restore liver glycogen but not muscle glycogen. So again, in small amounts it might be okay, but it should not be the primary carb. What this means is that milk would not be a good source of carbs post-workout.

So what would be good sources? Complex carbs like those found in breads and cereals can be used to restore muscle glycogen. And at other times, complex carbs are the best source of carbs. However, post-workout, healthy carb containing foods like whole grain breads and cereals would not be good.

The fiber in such foods would delay digestion. For this reason, the glycemic rating of unrefined complex carb foods is usually low to moderate. And even refined breads and cereals, with their moderate glycemic rating, would take too long to digest. And again, a liquid post-workout drink would be better than solid foods.

So what that leaves as the main options are dextrose and maltodextrin. Dextrose is simply the name for glucose that has been derived from corn. Glucose is the body's primary energy source, and the form in which carbs must be converted into to be used to create glycogen.

Moreover, dextrose can be absorbed directly through the gut into the bloodstream. And with this rapid absorption, it raises blood sugar and insulin levels faster than any other carb. And since it is already in the form the body requires, it can be used immediately for glycogen replenishment.

Maltodextrin, on the other hand, is actually a complex carb. But its molecular chain is shorter than other complex carbs. Moreover, it is consists of loosely bonded glucose molecules. And like dextrose, maltodextrin is absorbed directly through the gut. So it raises blood sugar and insulin levels as much as dextrose does.

However, before maltodextrin can be utilized, it must first pass through the liver for the bonds between the glucose molecules to be broken down. So the rate at which it is used for glycogen replenishment is slower than with dextrose. However, because it is metabolized slower, there will not be as quick of a drop of insulin and blood sugar levels as with dextrose.

My Experience with Different Carbs

As for myself, when I first started lifting weights again I used orange juice in my post-workout drink. My reason for doing so was because I normally try to avoid foods high in "empty calorie" sugar. So I figured that along with carbs, at least the OJ also contained some helpful nutrients like potassium and vitamin C.

But then I did research like the above showing that fructose was not good at restoring muscle glycogen, so I switched to maltodextrin. And after a few workouts I found I was able to get through my workouts a lot faster, and I wasn't as tired post-workout. So what I believed was happening was my body was now able to store greater amounts of glycogen. As a result, I was not dragging through my workouts like I had been.

As evidence of this, in the first couple of weeks of using the maltodextrin I gained a little over a pound, but then my weight leveled off. Since glycogen holds three times its weight in water, this made sense. Greater glycogen stores meant my body was retaining more water. But once the glycogen stores were saturated, the weight gain stopped. So the weight gain was not due to an increase in fat and was actually a good thing.

But then I read on a Web page that it was best to use a 50/50 mixture of dextrose and maltodextrin. So I tried that for about a month. During that time, I gained a couple of pounds. But this time it didn't look like the weight gain was stopping.

I also noticed that I simply could not eat as much as I was always feeling "stuffed." So I was eating less but still gaining weight. And with the way my clothes were fitting, it was obvious that this weight gain was due to fat, not muscle or glycogen. It just seemed like my metabolism had slowed down. Meanwhile, I began dragging through my workouts again.

So I stopped using the dextrose and went back to using just maltodextrin. And after just one workout I could just "feel" my metabolism increase. I was hungry for the first time in weeks and began eating more, but at the same time I began losing weight. My energy levels during my workouts increased once again, and it only took a couple of weeks to lose the two pounds I had gained.

I'm not exactly sure what happened. All I can figure is that the dextrose was getting into my system too quickly. My body simply could not create glycogen that quickly, so the dextrose was being stored as fat. Moreover, the rapid raise and then drop in blood sugar and insulin levels was stopping the fat burning effect of my workouts and putting me into a "fat-storing" mode. It is for this very reason that simple sugars as a rule should be avoided. The resultant blood sugar and insulin "roller coaster" increases fat storage.

Meanwhile, maltodextrin raises blood sugar and insulin levels quickly, but since it needs to pass through the liver before being utilized, the levels do not drop so quickly. They remain elevated for a longer period of time. Moreover, as the bonds are broken between the glucose molecules, the glucose is released at a slow enough pace by the liver for the glucose to be fully used for muscle glycogen replacement.

At least, that's the best that I can figure it out. But whatever was happening, one thing is certain; I will stick with maltodextrin and avoid dextrose post-workout. So my basic recommendation is now to use maltodextrin for the carb source in a post-workout drink.

Protein Source

After carbs, the next most important ingredient to include in a post-workout drink is protein, for a couple of reasons. First off, the consumption of protein with the carbs actually increases the rate of glycogen formation. And secondly, the body's second priority post-workout is to begin to repair the muscle tissue that was torn down during the workout. And for this, the body needs amino acids.

And again, the quicker the protein can be deliver to the muscles cells the sooner this repair process can begin. So again, whole food sources of protein would not be ideal. It simply takes too long for the body to break down foods like meat or chicken.

Moreover, any fat in the food would slow down digestion even further. So fat should be avoided immediately post-workout. So the ideal protein source would be a protein powder, high in protein and low in fat. Mixed with water, this liquid protein source will be digested quickly.

However, different types of protein powders are digested at different rates. Casein is digested at a very slow rate, while egg and soy proteins are digested at a moderately slow rate. So none of these would be ideal. However, whey protein is digested at a very fast rate. So whey is the ideal protein to be used post-workout. That's simple enough.

However, there are different kinds of whey. And each is digested at a different rate. Whey concentrate is the slowest, whey isolate is next, while hydrolyzed whey is digested the quickest. So hydrolyzed whey would sound like it would be the best to use. And yes, it would be wise to include some hydrolyzed whey to start the repair process as a quickly as possible. However, using all hydrolyzed whey would not be so wise.

The reason would be similar to my experience with the dextrose above. The amino acids would get into the system all at once and thus too quickly to be fully utilized. So a mixture of hydrolyzed whey, whey isolate, and whey concentrate would be best. In this way, some protein would get into the system very quickly, but then more would be relapsed over a period of time.

Specifically, hydrolyzed whey is digested within 10-30 minutes; whey isolates are digested within about 30-50 minutes, and whey concentrate in about 50-80 minutes.

My Experience with Different Proteins

At one time I used Jarrow Formulas American Whey in my post-workout drink. And I do think it is a high quality whey protein. However, it is solely whey concentrate. Also, I always felt a little bit "bloated" when I used it. So I switched to Optimum's 100% Whey. It is a mixture of hydrolyzed whey, two kinds of whey isolates, and whey concentrate. It also contains digestive enzymes. And I have found that this protein seems to digest more easily than the pure whey concentrate did. So I plan on sticking with it.

But it should be noted that Optimum makes two kinds of 100% Whey, the original version and a natural version. The former uses the artificial sweetener acesulfame and artificial flavorings and colorings while the latter uses fructose and only natural flavorings. Personally, I try to avoid artificial food ingredients as much as possible, so I prefer the natural version.

As indicated above, fructose is not a good carb for replenishing muscle glycogen stores. But it can be used to replenish liver glycogen. So the couple of grams of fructose in the natural version is not problematic and might even be beneficial. But any more fructose than this should be avoided.

Amounts and Ratio of Carbs and Protein

So how much carbs and proteins should be included in a post-workout drink? Below are three different recommendations I have seen:

Carbs: 0.4-0.8 grams/ kilogram of bodyweight
Protein: 0.2-0.4 grams/ kilogram of bodyweight

Carbs: 5 grams/ 10 pounds of bodyweight
Protein: 5 grams/ 20 pounds of bodyweight

Carbs: 0.25-0.50g/lb of lean body mass
Protein: 0.25-0.30g/lb of lean body mass

Lean body mass is equal to bodyweight minus (bodyweight times %body fat). A rough estimate of your body fat percent can be found out by using a body fat scale or skin fold calibers.

That said, once one does the calculations, the amount of recommended carbs and protein for these three formulas are not that different. And the ratio of carbs to protein is between 1:1 to 2:1. But it should be noted that these recommendations are for strength athletes. For endurance athletes, the recommended ratio of carbs to protein is generally higher, up to 4:1.

As for myself, I use one scoop of maltodextrin and one scoop of Optimum's Natural 100% Whey. The scoop is the standard size that comes with protein powders (70 cc). This gives me about 38 grams of carbs from the maltodextrin, while one scoop of the whey protein contains 23 grams of protein and 4 grams of carbs. So I'm using about 42 grams of carbs and 23 grams of protein.

Since I weigh about 120 pounds, this comes to:

0.33 grams carbs and 0.19 grams protein/ lb of bodyweight
0.73 grams carbs and 0.42 gram protein/ kg of bodyweight
0.41 grams carbs and 0.23 grams protein/ lb lean body mass

1.8:1 ratio of carbs to protein.

Conclusion to Part One

Carbs and protein are the two "essential" ingredients to include in a post-workout drink. But there are many "optional" ingredients one might want to include as well. These will be discussed in part two of this article. It will appear in the next issue of FitTips for One and All.

Information for the above article was gleaned from various Web sites and magazines, including but not limited to articles from the following:
Monster Muscle magazine
Parillo Performance Press magazine
Physical magazine
Powerlifting USA magazine
Pro Trainer Online
PubMed (abstracts for various scientific studies).


New on Fitness for One and All

Many new Protein Powders and Supplement Descriptions have been added.

Notice:  I will competing in the World Championships for the International Powerlifting Association on June 10, 2004 in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, USA. For this competition, I will be out of town for several days. During this time I will not be checking my email. So there will be a delay in responding to any emails sent to me during this time. I will post a contest report on the Web site the week after the competition.


Also by Gary F. Zeolla:
Darkness to Light Web site and Darkness to Light newsletter.
Christian Theology, Apologetics, Cults, Ethics, Bible Versions, and much more!


Disclaimer: The material presented in this newsletter is intended for educational purposes only. The director, Gary F. Zeolla, is not offering medical or legal advice. Accuracy of information is attempted but not guaranteed. Before undertaking any medical treatments or diet, exercise, or health improvement programs, consult your doctor. The director is in no way responsible or liable for any bodily harm, physical, mental, or emotional, that results from following any of the advice on this newsletter.

All material in this newsletter is copyrighted 2004 by Gary F. Zeolla or as indicated otherwise.