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Intense Workout: 4 Physiological Factors by Puneet Sharma

Whether it is running a 5K, lifting weights, playing ball for an hour on the court or whatever your exercise passion is, you always have to recover from your activity in order to actually benefit from it. Exercise without recovery is not progress. Recovery requires time and nutrients. This article shows how you can recover and progress after intense workout.

Intense Workout: 4 Physiological Factors by Puneet Sharma

You finished your workout.  You crushed it in the gym.  Congratulations! Now what? That's not me asking, that's your body talking to you.

Exercise is just a stimulus to the body. You have made a request of your physiology. "Muscles, now that I have punished you, would you please rebuild yourself stronger and better than before, and while you're at it, would you also get ready to do it all again as quickly as possible?" That is a pretty tall order. You know what answer your muscles give?  "Sure, if you give me the right materials." 

Whether it is running a 5K, lifting weights, playing ball for an hour on the court or whatever your exercise passion is, you always have to recover from your activity in order to actually benefit from it.  Exercise without recovery is not progress. Recovery requires time and nutrients. In fact, better nutrient supply can actually shorten the time required to recover.

I always recommend getting key nutrients as soon as the workout is over. I want to switch off the signals of damage that we've been sending (that's what intense exercise is, by the way, a good type of damage), and I want to turn on the signals of repair right away.  A lot of research has shown that the body is optimized for initiating repair in the first two hours after your workout. Now don't forget, recovery takes an on-going supply of good nutrients, not just a single post-workout drink.  That said, I always teach that it definitely begins with a good post-workout drink.

Years ago, the recommendations usually went something like this—40 grams of protein and 200 grams of carbohydrates (preferably sugar).  I had seen guys do 3 sets of barbell curls and then get their huge 1,000 calorie post-workout shake—why? Guys that were "bulking" loved this approach. It was an excuse to binge. On the other hand, I knew plenty of men and women that we're focusing on losing fat and they didn't want a massive, carb-loaded shake, so they just skipped the post-workout nutrition altogether. Now, we better understand what's actually happening in the post-workout window and can get the rightnutrients to accomplish our goal without sabotaging our efforts in the gym.

So, what does the body actually need right after a workout? There's a lot going on, so let's see what the 4 main things are that the body is trying to accomplish after you punish it in the gym.  The following are all taking place simultaneously and all are important.  Here's our checklist:

1. Turn off Damage

We want to turn off the muscle damage signals to allow repair to begin ASAP. We can flip this switch with modest amount of carbs and amino, and one of my favourites HMB.

  • The carbs and specific amino help drive just enough of an insulin response to turn off the destructive hormonal signalling that has been triggered by hard training. And we can do it with as little as 10-15 grams of the right carbohydrates and amino—not the hundreds of grams we used to use in the past.
  • HMB is a downstream metabolite of the essential amino acid leucine. Our bodies can make HMB in small amounts from leucine and a little is also found in some foods. It is even found in mother's milk.  HMB was made popular in the 90s, but we never really used the right amount back then to get the true value from it—it used to be very expensive.  Researchers for 20 years have shown that the true, patented HMB can result in increased muscle mass. 
  • One of the ways they believe this happens is by turning off or down the breakdown of muscles. The body typically remains in a state of balanced breakdown and repair, but exercise momentarily increases the destructive processes. The scientists believe that one of the things HMB does is that it can shift the balance away from muscle damage and back to building and repair. To be clear, the research shows we need to be taking in around 3 grams per day to really notice the impact.

2. Turn on Repair

Next, we want to turn on protein synthesis—that's a fancy way of saying repair the muscle damage exercise has done and build them back stronger, bigger, and better.  Specific amino acids, a novel new ingredient known as Velositol® and HMB are how we optimize this process.

  • Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are one of the keys and we've seen in the research that specific amino are better suited to stimulate this process—amino acids like leucine, isoleucine and valine (the branched chain amino acids or BCAAs), glutamine, carnitine, taurine, arginine, and citrulline have been shown to be key players in supporting protein synthesis. Researchers have discovered that as little as 6 grams of the right amino acids can have the same effect as 25 grams of whey protein. 
  • To supercharge this recovery process, I like the addition of a novel combination of amylopectin and chromium known as Velositol. Just 2 grams of Velositol has been shown in a recent study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2017 to double the amount of muscle protein synthesis compared to placebo—and this happens from the first time you use it.  
  • In addition, the previously mentioned HMB is involved here as well, having been shown in research from 2014 in the Journal of Physiology and other studies to increase protein synthesis—again, at least 3 grams seems to be the needed amount. One of the great things about HMB is that it works even better as we age, shifting the body away from muscle destruction and back to muscle building.

3. Support your Nervous System

Besides muscle recovery, we want our nervous system to recover as well.  A good supply of B vitamins and absorbable minerals is one of the simplest, old-school methods that still work. Magnesium is particularly good at calming the nervous system after intense stress.  Intense muscle contractions put a strain on your nervous system, and like muscles, your nervous system also needs to recover.

4. Reload what we used

Finally, we need to "reload" what we used in our training session.  Vigorous exercise uses up things like glycogen, ATP, electrolytes, and water and research has shown that the earlier we restore them, the sooner we begin recovery.

  • Muscle glycogen (that's the sugar inside the muscles used as fuel). What we need here are carbohydrates.  We do not need hundreds of grams like they used to tell us, just enough to stimulate the uptake of blood glucose and tell those muscle cells to reload the glycogen.  We want carbohydrates like glucose polymers that will stimulate the glycemic response.
  • ATP (adenosine triphosphate—that's another substance our bodies make to fuel powerful muscle contractions). The body naturally regenerates ATP, but only to a certain point.  The compound that is crucial in optimizing this process is creatine.  I've lectured all over the world to professional athletes, personal trainers,  lay people and more, and I am shocked at how many of the current generation aren't taking advantage of this amazing nutrient.  Entire books have been written on creatine, but the very brief explanation of what creatine does is that it helps our muscles create more ATP and restore ATP more quickly.  It’s been shown to make people stronger, faster, and able to leap tall buildings well, maybe not tall buildings, but research does show that subjects had more explosive power. 
  • This means subjects performed better in everything from vertical jumps to max bench press to 100-meter sprint times.  My favourite form of creatine is creatine bound with magnesium, a patented compound known as Creatine Magnapower.  Although old-fashioned creatine monohydrate is still great, I prefer the Magnapower version because it also supplies magnesium.  In addition, they've discovered that simple creatine monohydrate can be converted to the undesirable creatinine when it comes in contact with acid (like stomach acid).  Creatine Magnapower doesn't suffer this problem and is much better absorbed.

  • Electrolytes (crucial minerals like magnesium, calcium, potassium, and sodium that are involved in muscle contractions and restoring post-workout hydration and pH balance). If you have ever seen a sports drink commercial, they talk about electrolytes and their importance.  We definitely want to put back what we used, but there is a lot more to recovery.
  • Water (got to rehydrate—dehydrated cells take longer to repair—not good). Well, this ingredient is pretty easy to find, but when combined with the other nutrients above (like the minerals and glucose, for example), you can actually rehydrate those muscle cells faster than with just straight water.  Another reason I like a post-workout drink over a post-workout solid meal, faster and better absorption.


If your exercise wasn't strenuous at all, like if you just went for a walk, you don't need any special nutrient concoctions—save your post-workout drink for after your harder workouts.

These are the 4 most important physiological actions to take care of immediately following intense exercise.  We want the muscles and nervous system to begin repair as quickly as possible and we want to start putting back what the body used during training. If we don't address the nutritional needs following our workouts, we won't maximize our benefits from all our hard work.  One thing I love about a good post-workout drink is that you can quickly and easily accomplish all of this with the right combination of nutrients. After you've had your post-workout drink, wait an hour or two and then have a good, solid meal, you have earned it.

About The Author

Puneet Sharma

Puneet Sharma is a Performance and Strength Coach based in Sydney Australia. He mentors trainers so that they prepare athletes for competitions and shows.

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