Sports Nutrition Part 3: Making Nutrition Work for Your Workout

by | Oct 27, 2022 | Articles, Conditions, Nutrition, Sports & Fitness

Get more from your workout by adding the right nutrients at the right time.  In part 1 and 2 of this series I reviewed which hormones increase muscle strength, speed and power, how muscles develop, and which nutrients are necessary for this process.  Now let’s tie it all together and get down to the specific nutrient formula and timing that will make it happen.

There are three critical times in the development of muscle – workout, recovery and growth.  Each time requires a specific set of nutrients to optimize performance and muscle development.  By getting the right nutrients at the right time you can increase your workout or sports performance, recover quicker, and bust past the plateau often reached by serious athletes.

Getting sports nutrition is easiest and most efficient in the form of a “sports drink”.  The water to stay well hydrated is also obtained this way.  While there are numerous sports drinks on the market I’ll review a homemade version and you can always compare this to commercial brands.

The Workout Phase

During exercise blood flow to muscle increases as much as 500 percent, insulin and cortisol rise, while glycogen and creatine phosphate reserves are depleted.  Muscle damage occurs due to physical tearing, cortisol wasting and from the generation of damaging free radicals.

Goals for the workout phase include increasing nutrients for the active muscles while sparing the breakdown of muscle protein and glycogen stores, minimizing muscle damage and wasting, and setting the stage for a faster recovery phase.

Workout nutrition needs to contain fast acting high glycemic carbs, such as sugar, glucose or maltodextrin, in order to increase insulin, provide energy and restore glycogen reserves.  Adding protein will help limit muscle breakdown and set the stage for protein building later.  Whey protein is the ideal protein source during exercise since it is so easily digested and readily available for uptake into muscle.  The ideal ratio of carbohydrate to protein is about 4 to 1.  Add about 20 grams of sugar (4 tsp) and 5 grams of whey protein to 10-12 ounces of water.

Adding anti-oxidants vitamins C (120mg) and E (60iu) will help mop us free radicals that cause inflammation and damage muscle.  Leucine (1 gram) will help stimulate insulin and aid in muscle rebuilding.  Electrolytes include sodium (250mg), potassium (100mg) and magnesium (120mg).

Drinking this energy drink about 10 minutes before workout and hydrating throughout workout with the same solution will increase performance and endurance, plus set the stage for recovery.

The Recovery Phase

After exercise the body is in an inflamed and nutrient depleted condition.  Damaging free radicals and cortisol are high leading to breakdown of muscle and further inflammation.  The BCAAs that are so critical for muscle development are depleted.  The increased blood flow during exercise now shuts down and toxins accumulate.  At this point drinking plain water after a workout is not enough.

During the recover phase the goals are to shift the body from a muscle wasting to a muscle building state, increase muscle blood flow to flush toxins, restore glycogen reserves, start muscle repair and reduce muscle damage.  The muscle tissue is primed and very sensitive to the benefits of insulin but insulin levels will quickly drop without the right nutrients.  The “window of opportunity” in the recovery phase begins immediately after the workout, starts closing within about 45 minutes, and is gone by 2 hours post-exercise.

Carbohydrates in the recovery drink will cause insulin to remain elevated and work its magic on protein synthesis in muscle tissue.  Insulin also blunts the muscle wasting effects of cortisol thus limiting muscle breakdown.  Insulin will encourage rapid uptake of carbohydrates to rebuild glycogen stores and increase blood flow to help flush away post-exercise toxins.  Adding protein to the recovery drink provides the amino acids necessary to rebuild muscle.

The ideal recovery drink is similar to the workout drink.  The carbohydrate to protein ratio is again about 4 to 1.  And again vitamins C (120mg) and E (400iu) are included to clear out free radicals.  Add leucine (1-2 grams) to help stimulate protein building, and glutamine (1-2 grams) to restore this now depleted critical amino acid for muscle repair.

Growth Phase

The growth phase begins about 4-5 hours after a workout and your usual healthy diet is the main nutrition during this time.  The goal here is to provide plenty of protein in the diet and increase muscle development.

There is still a chance of extending the recovery insulin state for about 4 hours after a workout but much less carbohydrate is needed to keep insulin levels up.  Now the ratio of carbohydrate to protein is about 1 to 5.  Consuming a post-recovery / early growth phase drink about 2 hours after exercise, containing about 2 grams sugar and 10 grams protein powder will keep the benefits of insulin sensitivity in muscle going a little longer.

Research has shown that 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight, daily, is ideal for strength training.  High quality protein with meals as well as protein snacks between meals will increase amino acid levels in the blood and increase muscle growth.  During the growth phase and routine meals it is time to revert to high quality low glycemic carbohydrates found in leafy green, red, yellow, orange and purple vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

Credit is due to John Ivy, PhD and Robert Portman, PhD, for their excellent book, “Nutrient Timing”, from which many important concepts were used for this series.  For an in-depth study of sports nutrition I highly recommend the book.

If you are making the time to exercise then I salute your efforts, and if you incorporate these principles of sports nutrition you should be rewarded with greater performance, endurance, strength, speed and power!


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 ( and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (   Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.


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