“My athletes routinely ask me about supplements, and particularly protein, so I wanted to have a ‘how’ and ‘why’ reference point for them to refer to should they make the decision on including a supplement strategy in their routine. Supplements can be an extremely useful recovery tool and something I have recommended based on individual circumstances. Here are my need-to-knows;
1. FOOD FIRST
You (or your parents!) are throwing money away if you think that a supplement is going to replace good quality food. Ask yourself; are you eating as well as you can? Do you have a good source of carbs/ protein and fats every meal? Or are you still eating a bowl of coco-pops for breakfast…? Are you preparing your meals and eating adequately after training? Try that first! Then try doing it consistently for months on end – your training progress will skyrocket!
2.THERE IS A RISK
Supplements can sometimes contain things that are on the banned list for athletes! Understand there is a risk to taking supplements if you compete in sport and that YOU are responsible for what goes in your body. Use the informed sport website to understand if what you are potentially purchasing is independently checked and approved.
3. UNDER 18?
I’ve worked with international under 18s for the last three years who have trained extremely hard and had a high frequency of training. This led to some fantastic results this last season; however, their training frequency was still significantly different to what a professional athlete’s training frequency is. If you are under 18 I recommend really nailing point 1, and saving a potential supplement strategy for when your training intensity AND frequency increases!
A daily intake of 1.6g of protein per kg of body weight is recommended.
Ben’s article is insightful and goes into the all the detail you need behind post-workout nutrition.
All the best,
Post Workout Nutrition for Academy Rugby Athletes
Author | Ben Stephens, ASCC & PhD Candidate
In 2012, the supplement industry accounted for around $32 billion dollars in revenue, a number predicted to double by 2021, according to the nutritional business journal. Given the profits to be made, it is unsurprising that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for athletes to separate legitimate products from the useless, or even harmful. With the majority of online supplement stores selling a huge range of products, offering everything from improved physiological function and growth to improvements in athletic performance; it is important that we give correct and informed advice to our athletes, to allow them to make objective choices regarding their post workout nutrition. The nature of this profit driven industry also means there is a significant lack of independent testing, so extreme caution should be used when including supplements as part of a nutritional regimen.
For players, whether at the Academy/U18/U20 development stage or at professional level, what you put into your body becomes even more important, as the view taken by sporting organizations and anti-doping bodies is that “you are responsible for any prohibited substance found in your system, whether there was an intention to cheat or not”.
It’s no secret that hypertrophy is a big part of the Rugby S&C game and nutrition is a key piece of the puzzle, as without adequate and appropriate nutrition following an intense weights session, the potential for growth can be slashed dramatically. Put simply, if you don’t eat correctly, you won’t recover and you certainly won’t grow.
By the end of this article you should, hopefully, have a better understanding of what post workout nutrition the body needs to maximise growth and recovery following resistance training, and why. One thing to mention is that supplements are very much there to supplement an appropriate food strategy. They should be used in moderation, and a food first approach will always be the key to performance, development and recovery. The correct choices when it comes to protein, carbohydrate and fat sources, combined with sufficient fruit and vegetable intake will always trump against the athlete trying to attain the majority of their nutrient intake through manufactured supplements.
In skeletal muscle, protein turnover (the synthesis & degradation of muscle proteins, mostly actin and myosin) forms the basis of the muscle plasticity in response to resistance training. In the body, the amino acids released from the muscle protein during breakdown are often re-used quite extensively, however this is not a completely efficient process, and a significant amount of amino acids are lost; mostly to oxidation or conversion to glucose via gluconeogenesis .
The figure below, from Phillips (2004) illustrates this with a schematic of protein turnover and the various metabolic fates of amino acids in skeletal muscle.
For our rugby athletes, where myofibrillar hypertrophy is one of their sport-specific goals, the process of myofibrillar protein turnover induced by resistance exercise is actually a relatively slow one [7, 16]. This is what gives rise to the need for repeated exercise stimulus over a prolonged period before outward changes in phenotype (i.e. fiber type/hypertrophy) are observed [6,11,16]. This ties back into the fundamental concept of training frequency and consistency that we hammer into our athletes when they first start a strength and conditioning programme.
During exercise, there is no acute increase in protein turnover or oxidation. However, post-workout (resistance training) there is marked increase in muscle protein synthesis[1,4,13,14,19]. Although on the surface this may lead someone to believe that protein balance could be positive with a marked increase in synthesis, almost every study that has measured muscle protein balance post-workout has shown that although synthesis is markedly elevated, muscle protein balance is in fact still negative, due to an ~30-50% increase in muscle protein breakdown[1,10,13,14].
This leads us nicely into our number one post-workout requirement for our rugby athletes, amino acids in the form of a dietary protein bolus. The physiological response to this is that of feeding-induced stimulation of muscle protein synthesis (MPS), and combined with the synthesis elevating effects of resistance training, we end up in a net positive protein balance. This net positive protein balance in skeletal muscle is crucial for myofibrillar hypertrophy to occur; with hypertrophy the result of accumulated periods in positive protein balance following a workout[1,13,14]. The underlying mechanisms associated with the enhanced MPS effect of feeding after exercise seem to be associated with increased phosphorylation of mTOR, P70S6K1, and 4EPB-1, more so than achieved with exercise alone[5,8,9].
It is important to be aware that this effect of feeding-induced stimulation of MPS is actually controlled by extracellular amino acid concentration, and it is possible to “top out” or plateau through excessive amino acid delivery, resulting in the system become unresponsive to further delivery, resulting in an increase in urea production. Conversely, studies that have looked at this phenomenon have found that the mechanisms controlling muscle anabolism have the capacity to respond to repeated dosage within a small window of a few hours[3,12]. In one study, consumption of two 15g boluses of essential amino acids before and one hour after resistance exercise elicited similar anabolic responses. There is currently debate regarding the exact oral dosage of protein which would result in plateau, but it is clear that “topping out” is something that does occur as the system becomes unresponsive to increasing amino acid delivery.
The consideration of all this for coaches and athletes is that of portion control, frequency and nutrient timing. Get it right, and you can near maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis to give you the highest net positive muscle protein balance post workout, required for growth; assuming the training provided a sufficient stimulus.
The figure above, from Phillips (2004) illustrates the effect of resistance training and amino acids on muscle protein balance.
Post Workout Nutrition Rule 1:
- 15g-25g High Quality Protein Bolus following Resistance Training
- Repeat intake 1-2 hours later
Although there is ongoing debate regarding the use of protein powders vs. food for post workout nutrition, and at current there is no evidence to suggest that either is more effective than the other, we recommend a high quality whey or alternative protein powder (i.e. Casein/pea/egg white) to our athletes for the following reasons:
- They usually have a good amino acid profile
- They can be prepared in seconds, and can be consumed easily
- They can be incorporated into a post workout shake that allows fat content to be kept extremely low and carbohydrate delivery high.
- They don’t require refrigeration or any preparation time, which is ideal for our athletes who go to work/school and fit their training around their career.
- Fluid delivery – Athletes are renowned for not staying well enough hydrated, this provides ample opportunity for them to get in the necessary fluids for rehydration, post workout.
If you were looking closely, you would have noticed I mention another component we believe is crucial to the post-workout nutrition, carbohydrate.
A key function of the endocrine pancreas is to release insulin when blood glucose is raised, and reduce insulin secretion as blood glucose decreases. During exercise, blood glucose decreases due to uptake by the muscles for energy under training load. By eliciting an insulin response post-workout, through delivery of simple sugars (glucose), we can utilise the insulin sensitive state to elicit glucose uptake by the muscle, as well as increase alanine transport and supress muscle protein degradation (Kumar et al).
Glucose stimulates insulin release by fuelling the β-Cell Krebs cycle, and by increasing the ATP/ADP ratio. This higher ATP/ADP ratio means more energy for the ATP-dependent K+ channel resulting in depolarization. Depolarization results in Ca2+ influx into the cell which activates the release of insulin vesicles into the blood .
(Insulin secretion by beta cells)
Insulin then stimulates muscle glucose uptake by binding to the insulin receptor followed by activation of Akt2/PKB, in a series of signalling steps that involve phosphorylation. Active Akt2/PKB causes GLUT4 to be translocated into the membrane to allow for glucose transport into the muscle cell. Active Akt2/PKB also activates glycogen synthase which increases glycogen synthesis, for storage by the muscle .
(Insulin-activated glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis)
Another reason we often recommend fast release carbohydrate post-workout is that the majority of our athletes, particularly those in the regional academies, are completing 2-3 sessions per day (weights, on-pitch sessions and conditioning) which has high caloric and carbohydrate demands to adequately meet the required performance for the training load. However, the food first approach still applies here and athletes should be achieving the majority of their carbohydrate from vegetables and healthy slow release foods.
Post Workout Nutrition Rule 2:
- 15-45g Fast/Moderate release carbohydrate (Dependent on training load)
It’s clear that the current body size/shape, targets (i.e. fat free mass, strength, power, speed/agility) and training load will all combine to determine an individual’s performance goals and therefore require individual eating habits and practices daily. It’s important also to realise that the food-first approach should always be the number one port of call athletes, because eating the correct foods in the right quantities, and at the right time, is going to play the biggest part in an athlete reaching their training and performance goals. However, we believe appropriate use of dietary supplementation in the post workout window is an easy part to get right, now you know how, and it will ensure that all of the eating/training/recovery strategies line up in synchronisation to maximise development.
Post Workout Nutrition Rule 1:
- 15g-25g High Quality Protein Bolus following Resistance Training
- Repeat intake 1-2 hours later
Post Workout Nutrition Rule 2:
- 15-40g Fast/Moderate release carbohydrate (Dependent on training load)
- Consume healthy, slow release carbohydrate with large portion of vegetables 1-2 hours later
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