The research behind post-workout nutrition is clear – highly bioavailable protein supplements aid recovery by boosting muscle repair and growth.
But post-workout nutrition is just one element of a broader approach to performance nutrition.
The notion that exercise-induced muscle breakdown (catabolism) should only be addressed once a training session has ended has become a dated idea.
We now understand that muscle damage can occur soon after we start an intense workout. Assisting the body to either limit muscle damage or kickstart the re-building (anabolic) process as soon as possible can, therefore, be highly beneficial.
That’s why a peri-workout supplement approach that aims to optimise nutrient timing has become popular. This approach encompasses three main types of supplements – pre-, intra- and post-workout products.
The benefits of pre-workout supplements
A study conducted by respected researcher Dr Kevin Tipton and colleagues found that weight lifters may benefit from increased muscle growth by ingesting carbohydrates and amino acids before working out.
This happens because weight lifting increases blood flow, which improves the efficiency with which amino acids are transported to working muscles.
The researchers discovered that subjects who consumed a mixture of essential amino acids (6g) and sucrose (35g) immediately prior to weight-training experienced better muscle gain than subjects who consumed the solution immediately afterwards.
For this reason, many pre-workout products today contain highly bioavailable amino acids in the form of BCAAs, EAAs, HMB, L-leucine, L-arginine and L-glutamine, which helps to limit muscle loss during training and increases muscle protein synthesis after training.
Modern pre-workout supplements have also been formulated to contain active ingredients that further enhance nutrient delivery and remove by-product more effectively by dilating blood vessels, along with compounds that enhance concentration and focus and increase energy.
Add in an in-betweener with an intra-workout
A growing body of research now also shows that consuming a source of highly bioavailable protein or free-form or peptide-form amino acids, in addition to other macronutrients and beneficial compounds during a workout, can also offer muscle-building benefits.
Like pre-workouts, intra-workout supplements provide nutrients that limit muscle loss, boost growth and increase performance as quickly as possible. They also help to get rid of exercise metabolites, which can accelerate muscle tissue breakdown.
Well-formulated intra-workout supplements also deliver rapidly digestible and readily available fuel to working muscles for more energy during exercise, often in the form of a high-GI carbohydrate source. A steady supply for glucose, for instance, helps to preserve muscle glycogen stores, which can improve endurance and workout intensity.
By fuelling your body with quickly assimilated and rapidly absorbed energy, you also prime the body to release the greatest and most anabolic hormone in the human body, insulin.
Unsurprisingly, this segment of the supplement market has grown prodigiously over the past few years, with countless products now on offer.