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The Science of Post-Workout Muscle Recovery

The Science of Post-Workout Muscle Recovery

Recovery is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied parts of fitness.  So what are the facts?

By Dr. Adam M. Gonzalez
Chief Scientific Officer, SHIFTED

Weight training in undeniably the most potent stimulus for promoting muscular adaptations.  But gains in muscle size and strength can only be obtained if we follow good recovery practices. To recover well, we need to give the body the tools it needs to repair and build. That's where a good post-workout recovery drink come in. 

The single most important thing to focus on for muscle recovery is providing the body with essential amino acids to serve as the building blocks for repairing muscle.  In fact, an exhaustive training session in the absence of proper recovery nutrition will leave you in a catabolic state making it impossible to build new muscle.  High-quality protein containing all 9 essential amino acids is required to promote muscle protein synthesis and optimal recovery. 

You will get the most out of your hard work in the gym if a post-workout protein drink is consumed shortly after training because the anabolic effects of training and protein intake are additive.

Who does a post workout recovery drink benefit and why? (lifters, athletes, endurance?)

Adequate protein intake in the recovery period are critical to any athlete, whether endurance or weight training.  Athletes simply require higher protein intakes to repair damaged muscle and promote training adaptations.  Protein supplements facilitate muscle repair and mitigate muscle damage during recovery from any strenuous exercise or sport.

What are the most important ingredients to look for in a good post-workout recovery drink?

The perfect post-workout recovery drink would include whey protein isolate, free-form essential amino acids, and contain a rich supply of the branched-chain amino acids (particularly leucine).

Whey protein isolate is well-established as the highest quality complete protein source containing all 9 essential amino acids and a rich supply of the branched-chain amino acids.  It is also very well absorbed and has consistently shown to support muscle recovery and adaptations.

Free-form essential amino acids are the most rapid means of elevating the concentration of amino acids in the blood for delivery to the muscle.  Supplementing with free form essential amino acids assures that the muscle is rapidly bathed in the building blocks required for repair.

Overall, for an optimal simulation of muscle protein synthesis and recovery, a post-workout recovery drink should contain enough protein and free-form amino acids to provide greater than 10 grams of essential amino acids and greater than 3 grams of leucine.

What is the best time to drink a post-workout recovery drink?

The idea that a protein shake has to be slammed down immediately following the last set is a myth that never seems to die.  A high quality post-workout recovery drink will offer muscle building effects when taken anytime in the post-workout period.  However, there is still good reason to get the recovery process started sooner than later by having the drink in close proximity to the end of your workout.

5 Tips To Maximize Muscle Recovery

1) Start your workout right - Use a pre-workout supplement with ingredients like L-citrulline and nitrates (beetroot and red spinach leaf extract) which improve blood flow and reduce feelings of muscle soreness. 

2) Allow your muscles to recover faster after your workout with free form essential amino acids (EAAs).

3) Continue to allow your muscles to recover with the addition of a complete protein like Whey protein isolate.

4) Prioritize other high-quality protein sources during your meals such as chicken, beef, fish, eggs, and dairy.

5) Sleep at least 8 hours.

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