17 March 2021

Post Workout – The Anabolic Phase: Protein & Sugars Vs Sugars or Protein Only

By Brian Batcheldor BSC

The body is primarily in a catabolic mode which changes to anabolic when the correct stimuli are provided, insulin is the switch that sets this change in motion. Post exercise, cells are acutely sensitive to the anabolic actions of insulin, providing the right nutrients at this time will exploit this heightened insulin sensitivity.

Why Increase Insulin?

Insulin is the most powerful anabolic hormone, it:

  • Increases Protein Synthesis
  • Increases Amino Acid Transport
  • Decreases Protein Degradation
  • Increases Glucose Uptake
  • Increases Glycogen Storage
  • Decreases Cortisol Release
  • Increases Muscle Blood Flow

Studies show that the timing of carbohydrate intake post exercise has a significant influence on the rate of muscle glycogen storage. When subjects consumed a carbohydrate supplement immediately after exercise, they stored twice as much glycogen as when they took the same supplement 2 hours later. Another study found that muscle glucose uptake following exercise was 3-4 times faster than when taken 3 hours later. Carbohydrates that promote the greatest insulin spike also produce the highest rates of glycogen storage.

However, taking carbohydrates alone is only effective at increasing insulin up to a point; when carbohydrate content exceeds 0.5 grams/pound of bodyweight per hour then both blood insulin response and rate of muscle glycogen synthesis seem to plateau.

Protein synthesis has been shown to be almost 25% higher post-exercise, but amino acid uptake was almost twice as high when a carbohydrate and protein supplement was given immediately after exercise versus 2 hours later.

Whilst the sugar-induced increase in insulin is a key driver of these anabolic processes, the spike is greatest when sugars and protein are combined. In fact, this spike is also significantly more prolonged with the addition of protein/aminos to sugars during the post workout period, the combination of the two has been found to be nearly 40% more effective in restoring muscle glycogen than a carbohydrate only supplement (even when calories are matched) and almost 400% more effective than a protein supplement. In one Dutch study that compared a carbohydrate/protein recovery protocol with a carbohydrate only one, a near doubling of the insulin response to the former was accompanied by a near doubling of muscle glycogen storage. Significantly, following this post exercise sugar/protein protocol regularly makes the body more efficient at glycogen re-synthesis.

Athletes need to remember this, the higher the insulin response, the greater the rate of muscle glycogen synthesis. If performing repeated bouts of exercise (like CrossFit), then consider this, during the first 45 minutes of recovery, (muscle) glycogen storage for a carbohydrate/protein combo has shown to be two times faster than a carbohydrate/sugar supplement of the same calorific value.

One of the least known but important actions of insulin is to increase skeletal muscle blood flow, this is:

  • Vital To Exercise Recovery Between Repetitive Bouts
  • Key To Performance And Growth
  • Extremely Relevant In Preventing Muscle Loss In Older Athletes

Post workout supplement induced insulin spikes can increase blood flow approximately 200% The mechanism behind this spike involves nitric oxide (NO) synthesis, insulin is a strong stimulator of the NO pathway, a small insulin infusion is more effective at increasing NO-dependent blood flow than 30g of intravenous arginine!

Higher blood insulin and glucose levels with lower 3-methylhistidine excretion are achieved only with a sugar/protein post-workout formula, these are indicators of decreased muscle damage. This coupled with increased protein synthesis almost 600% greater than a carb/sugar only formula, leads to the obvious conclusion of a vastly superior net protein balance too. In short, the take home message from multiple studies is that the combination of carbohydrates and protein produces a synergistic effect on protein synthesis.

There has been plenty of research that has looked at the effects of post workout supplementation on immune function; this is particularly relevant to athletes. When cross-referencing military medical with sports science studies comparing a protein/carb protocol with a carb only control, results reveal:

  • 33% Fewer Total Medical Visits
  • 28% Fewer Visits Due To Bacterial/Viral Infection
  • 37% Fewer Visits Due To Muscle Joint Problems
  • 83% Fewer Visits Due To Heat Exhaustion

Time 4 Recovery is our Post Workout Recovery Formula containing a blend of fast acting protein and carbohydrates with added Glutamine, Taurine, Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), Vitamin C and Vitamin E.


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