Fitness May 2012


pplementation for strength gains and muscle growth

Last month I wrote about fueling and nutrition for endurance sports and activities and how timing of meals and snacks can make a huge difference in both performance and general well-being.  This month, I’m writing about how to maximize the timing and fueling choices for people who are trying to increase muscle mass and get stronger.  In other words, what is the timing strategy and what are the best foods to eat if you are trying to get bigger and stronger?
As with endurance activities, a regular meal schedule needs to be established as the foundation upon which the pre-and post-fueling strategy will be added.  Generally speaking, the regular meal schedule is based on a program of eating every 4-5 hours.  This would start with breakfast, which should be eaten within 4 hours upon waking and then continuing to eat every 4-5 hours thereafter based on the time of the breakfast. So for instance, if you wake up at 6am and eat breakfast at 8:30am, then your next meal should be around 12:30pm, the next at 4:30pm and the last at 8:30pm. Meals should consist of fresh, real, whole and natural foods and carbohydrate sources like high-water content vegetables such as broccoli, peppers, zucchini, asparagus, etc.; fibrous veggies such as potatoes, corn, beans and other root veggies, fruits; lean proteins like chicken, fish and eggs and healthy fats like avocado, nuts, seeds, fatty fish oils and olive oil. (For more details please refer to my April 2012 article).

Time fueling to maximize muscle growth
Research before 2000 seemed to indicate that the average American eats plenty of protein and that additional supplementation was unnecessary for muscle development.  More current research indicates that although we get enough protein, it is the timing of ingestion that makes the difference between strength and muscle gains or not.  Eating large servings of protein in meals will not result in muscle growth, but eating protein with some carbs within 10-30 minutes of a hard strength workout does enhance protein synthesis and muscle hypertrophy (growth). This is equally true for older populations (seniors over 55) as it is for younger age groups.  It also appears to be true for both women and men.

Interestingly, when protein with carbs is ingested immediately after a strength workout, several studies have found that not only is there a statistically significant increase in skeletal muscle, but there is also an increase in bone mineral density. This suggests that women who have been diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis would not only be well-served to include a strength-training workout in their weekly schedules, but that by also timing protein/carb replacement within 30 minutes of the workout, they will also be working towards re-establishing healthy bones without the use of pharmacology.

How much protein and carbs should be ingested post-workout?
The research has not yet determined exact levels of these foods (and with individual variations, this may never be achieved accurately); however, the general guideline is to ingest 8-30 grams of protein with 8-30 grams of carbs post-workout.  A more specific and individualized recommendation is 1g of protein and 1 g of carb for every 6 pounds of body weight. So, a 180-pound man would target 30 grams of protein and 30 grams of carb for a post-workout snack.  This is 240 calories.  Adding a few grams of healthy fat (approximately 5-10) would add another 45-90 calories and would round out the snack at approximately 285-330 calories.

Why not just ingest protein as a recovery snack? The addition of carbs is necessary for the body to maximize the absorption and utilization of the protein.  The fat, in addition to contributing to satiation, provides the body with energy and allows the absorption of important nutrients and contributes to the structure of cells. Without a certain amount of fat, the body would not be able to function properly.

Examples of post-strength workout snacks/meals?
One of the easiest recovery foods for post-weight lifting is milk (if you eat dairy).  A glass of milk supplemented with creatine with a side of blueberries is an easy snack that contains all the elements outlined above for recovery fueling once you have completed a workout.

Another snack would be a homemade smoothie made with skim milk, a scoop of either whey protein (if you eat dairy) or non-soy plant protein (I avoid soy due to the relationship to estrogen-related cancers), a tablespoon of almond butter or ground flax seed, a banana and creatine blended in a blender and carried in a water bottle for post-exercise consumption.

A real food snack could be chicken tenders simmered in a sauce comprised of turmeric, ginger and olive oil, eaten with a baked sweet potato with a drizzle maple syrup and cinnamon.

Although this is my last choice for recommendation,  grabbing a Muscle Milk or Myoplex (not the light, the regular) can be used in a pinch when time gets in the way of preparing one of the post-workout snacks above.  (I don’t like these products as a first choice because they are what I call mechanicalized food…..not fresh, real and whole like those our bodies are meant to be eating based on evolution and nature).

What additional supplements can be take to enhance strength workouts?
In addition to eating protein and carbs with some fat within 30 minutes of a workout, several other supplements have been found to enhance muscle growth and strength.  Creatine, which can be purchased in GNC or The Vitamin Shoppe, is one supplement that actually has scientific evidence to support its use as a strength and muscle development aid.  Follow the recommended dosage on the bottle, but be sure to time it so that it is included in your post-workout snack for maximum gains.

Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant herbs and spices such as turmeric (an herb that is added to Indian foods to give it an orange color) and ginger, and foods containing flavanoids such as berries, papaya and sweet potatoes are all wonderful post-workout because they help reduce the inflammation that results from lifting weights.  These can easily be added to a smoothie or eaten with a recovery drink post-workout. Eating anti-inflammatory foods is a much better strategy then taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories which reasearch shows to have unwanted side effects such as liver or kidney damage.  Evidence also exists that these drugs actually block protein recruitment for rebuilding and repairing.

The addition of a protein/carb/fat snack or meal consume 10-30 minutes post-strength workout has been shown to enhance both strength and size of skeletal muscle. Taking the time to prepare a whole food snack is well worth the effort.  Getting the same amount of protein outside the window of 10-30 minutes of a workout does not have the same positive effects on muscle growth and strength, even if by the end of the day you ingest the right amount of protein.  Taking the time to plan a post-workout snack with adequate protein/carb/fat based on your weight may be the difference in making significant gains from your workout and may also make a difference in bone density.  So workout and eat up!

Judy Torel is a USAT coach, personal trainer, nutrition consultant and psychotherapist. Her office is Judy Torel’s Coaching and Training Studio at 116 Everett Road, Albany. She can be reached at 469.0815 or


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