Getting the right nutrition, at the right time, will enhance your workout leading to increases in muscle strength, speed, power and endurance. But just what is the “right nutrition” to maximize exercise benefits? It needs to supply energy for exercise and provide muscles with the raw ingredients needed to grow and repair while encouraging the hormones that stimulate muscle development.
Protein is considered the most amongst athletes as it represents the largest ingredient in muscle tissue. In fact, proteins are essential for all body structures including bone, skin and organs. They also make up the hormones, enzymes, antibodies, and neurotransmitters that control just about everything in the body.
Proteins are found in meat, dairy, nuts, grains and beans, and before they are absorbed by the digestive tract must be broken down to their basic building blocks, called amino acids. Once in the bloodstream amino acids are distributed throughout the body and reassembled into specific proteins including muscle tissue. Protein should make up about 20-30% of daily calorie intake.
Of the 20 amino acids, 9 are considered “essential” because our bodies can’t manufacture them, thus they need to be included in our diet. The 3 essential “branched-chain amino acids” (BCAAs) are prime for muscle development since they can be taken directly into muscle tissue without needing to be metabolized by the liver first. These include leucine, isoleucine and valine.
The average person’s protein intake needs to be about 0.5 grams/pound of body weight, daily, just to maintain muscle mass. Athletes, especially when strength training, need 1 to 1.2 grams/pound of protein per day in order to maximize muscle gains. Diet should provide the bulk of this protein source, but protein powders have become a standard to provide a quick, easy, and more efficient source of protein, especially when used during and after workouts.
Whey protein is arguably the best protein powder, supplying all 9 essential amino acids, including the highest percentage of BCAAs of any protein. It is easily and quickly digested, thus providing the muscles with a very efficient protein source for fuel and muscle repair after exercise. Whey protein is also rich in precursors for glutathione, one of the body’s most potent defenses against oxidation and toxins
Whey protein “concentrate” is the best type of whey protein, containing not only the essential amino acids, but also compounds that help fight inflammation and boost the immune system. Avoid products that are heat or acid processed as this damages the fragile protein structures. Instead seek out cold processed or micro-filtered products. Whey protein isolates are okay as well but are missing many of then nutrients beyond the amino acids. Pea protein is a good option for vegetarians or those who have lactose intolerance. I don’t recommend soy protein because it mimics estrogen and disrupts thyroid function.
Carbohydrates are the main source for energy, found mostly in fruits, vegetables and grains, and are broken down to the simple sugar we know as glucose. Simple carbs are small chains of sugar that break down quickly (high glycemic), while complex carbs such as starch or fiber are long chains of sugar that take more time to break down. Carbs should make up about 40-60% of daily calorie intake.
During and after exercise is the one time that sugar and high-glycemic carbs are healthy because they will supply energy for working muscle, increase insulin and assist in the breakdown of fats for fuel. During rest or the normal day it’s best to avoid the insulin boosting sugars and high-glycemic carbs since that will promote unhealthy storage of fat.
Fats are the most energy dense nutrient and are ideal as a fuel source, especially for endurance type activities. Avoid trans-fats and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Fats should make up about 20-30% of daily calorie intake.
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that are needed in small amounts to help catalyze the processing of the macronutrients into a healthy and active body. The 13 essential vitamins include the water-soluble vitamin B complex and vitamin C, both of which must be consumed daily since they are not stored in the body. Fat soluble vitamins K, A, D and E can be stored in the body fat. For athletes the most important vitamins are the B complex, C, D and E.
B vitamins are all about energy production, building muscle and forming the oxygen carrying red blood cells. Vitamin C is a major part of the collagen found in most body tissue and is a potent anti-oxidant. It has also been shown to blunt the muscle wasting effects of cortisol. Vitamin D is necessary for absorption of calcium and thus helps build the strong bones especially necessary for an athlete. Vitamin E is another great antioxidant and helps prevent muscle breakdown with exercise.
Muscle building minerals include calcium, phosphorus, iron and zinc, while all athletes need the electrolyte minerals sodium, potassium and magnesium.
Several amino acid supplements have strong evidence to support their role in improved exercise performance and muscle building. Arginine helps stimulate insulin, builds other amino acids and increases blood flow. Glutamine is the most common amino acid in muscle tissue and is critical for muscle development and healing, supports the immune system, and promotes glycogen storage in depleted muscles. Leucine increases insulin, glucose uptake into active muscle, and muscle growth.
Creatine is well known amongst strength training athletes to help restore creatine phosphate, which is the energy store for fast twitch muscle fibers. Good old caffeine is also another agent that is shown to increase effort and intensity of workouts and it also increases fat breakdown during exercise.
The basis of sports nutrition is found in the healthy diet with a little more protein and certain supplements for the more serious athlete, especially for strength training. Next week, in Part 3: Making Nutrition Work for Your Workout, I’ll bring the last two columns into focus by outlining some dynamite workout drinks that can be used before, during and after your workout in order to maximize your results.
Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement for men and women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.