When research was first published on resistance training, protein supplementation, and how to increase muscle-mass one thing quickly became obvious: protein is a vital nutrient for men looking to build muscle mass. Since muscle cells are made up of amino acids, it was an easy connection. However, this notion was quickly blown out of proportion when most iron pumping males decided that if a little extra protein was necessary, you might as well eat the whole cow.
At the end of the day, you can eat all the protein in your local butcher shop, but if your muscles are not prepared for the influx, it will all go to waste.
Yes, protein is essential to build lean mass, but most gym going males already get enough protein. Therefore, the question is NOT how do I get more protein, the important thing to ask is:
How do I get the most out of my whey protein?
To understand how to effectively use whey protein, you need to understand a little bit about muscle physiology – what happens to your muscles before, during, and after working out. When you start working out, your body immediately starts to use energy found in the muscles in the form of glycogen. Furthermore, exercise is a stress on the body, thus producing cortisol (a catabolic stress hormone). As your workout continues, especially if you are lifting some heavy weights, cortisol production continues, muscle inflammation occurs, and energy stores start to dip. This catabolic environment continues after your workout finishes – when you see catabolic, think of muscles as machines being used and broken down. Growth and repair cannot occur in a catabolic state.
If our muscles are machines, we need to find ways to help accomplish the task and then repair them for the next workout. The answer to this was, as alluded to earlier, formerly believed just a question about increased daily protein intake. However, to most effectively use your protein, the timing and combinations of protein as well as carbohydrates is even more important.
How should I prepare for my workout?
To prepare and sustain power output, consuming about 5-6 grams of protein and 20-26g of carbohydrates per 12 fl oz of fluid is ideal. Quick digesting whey protein combined with sports drink is the solution here. Consuming this “muscle fuel” pre- and during-workout will aid in preserving muscle protein, increasing protein synthesis and extend endurance / power output. Furthermore, this drink will minimize cortisol release and reduce inflammation by up to 50%.
Will protein work just as well on its own? Absolutely not. Including carbohydrates with protein maintains blood glucose levels which helps suppress cortisol. Without the carbs, cortisol production will remain elevated and power output / endurance will not improve. Including carbs with the whey protein is the key to not only improving the productivity of your session, but also on how to effectively use that whey.
Should I use whey protein after my workout?
Cortisol production and other catabolic hormones will remain elevated in the muscles following exercise if nutrients are not shuttled into the muscles. The 45 minutes post-workout are, nutritionally speaking, the most important part of your day as an athlete. Furthermore, protein alone will not convert the body into an anabolic state. Due to the muscle cells being highly insulin sensitive following a lifting session, consuming 60g of carbs post-workout will convert the body from a catabolic state to an anabolic one – a state of recovery and growth.
How important is consuming this carbohydrate / whey protein drink within 45 minutes? When studied, individuals that consumed their post-workout drink 3 hours after training finished actually had net protein loss. Muscles cannot grow like this.
Furthermore, in this post-workout window, stimulating insulin to help refuel muscles and cause growth is concern #1. Combining carbohydrates with protein in a 3:1 ratio (60g CHO / 20g Protein ideal) was 500% better at raising insulin than protein alone. Remember, insulin levels need to increase so that the muscles will become anabolic. This is when growth and repair happen! Don’t waste the whey, combining whey with carbohydrates and consuming it prior to and immediately post-workout is the only truly efficient way to help recover, cause muscle growth and eliminate muscle waste, thus reducing inflammation and soreness.
Summary: To get the most out of your whey protein supplement, 10 minutes prior to working out, consume 5-6 grams of protein dissolved in a sport drink containing 20-26g of dextrose / maltodextrin based carbohydrates to help prepare muscles to work harder and longer as well as improve recovery. Of greater importance, consume carbohydrates and whey protein in a 3:1 ratio within 45 minutes of finishing your workout. If you do not follow these tips, you’ll just be wasting a large jug of whey protein.