Post - Workout Supplementation:
The Extra Edge

By Phil Kaplan

Do you want an athletic edge? Do you want to better prepare your body to have exceptional workouts? Do you want to increase the likelihood of muscle growth? Sure you do, and that makes you a prime target for the sellers of supplements willing to mislead and entice you by making absurd claims. Is there a product that can really help you optimize results? Yes! But before I get into it, I want to take a step back and prevent you from believing it is going to be a magic elixir with the power to instantly transform you into your favorite super hero.

Every once in awhile I devote an article to the topic of supplementation. It's not my favorite topic. I cringe when I'm faced with a writing assignment that involves supplementation because people seem to read selectively. It's not their fault. They've been conditioned. It's almost comical when you examine the vast number of nutritional supplements that promise to rejuvenate your sex life, reshape your physique, trim your tummy, shape your thighs, reduce your butt, re-grow lost hair, and eliminate everything from gum disease to nearsightedness, from memory loss to cellulite. I've spent hours upon hours educating trainers and regular people alike in a simple but very important fact. Supplements are THE EXTRA! No "supplement" can "cure," "transform," "melt," or "rejuvenate," regardless of what ads tell you "the research has proven."

The reality is this. Supplements, if integrated carefully into a well-designed nutrition and exercise program, can play a small role in facilitating improvement. If you recognize that small positive changes, stacked upon each other, over time, lead to dramatic improvement, while you won't over-expect from the supplements you take, you won't miss out on the opportunity to use all resources to achieve excellence.

In the past I've covered fat burners and Growth Hormone products. In upcoming articles I'll address the newest supplements that promise explosive muscle growth. Right now I'd like to focus on the rare opportunity we have to supplement for benefit immediately following exercise. While the potential of a post workout recovery drink is far from miraculous, it is significant, and can give you the edge you seek.

Here comes a little science regarding vital post workout recovery factors. It is intended to provide you with enough information about the actual science behind these products so you can search your favorite nutritional websites or visit the neighborhood health food store and make an educated and valuable selection.

First Vital Concern: Glycogen

If you exercise intensely, and you eat a balance of protein and carbs throughout the day, you are efficiently storing and releasing glycogen which might simply be called "muscle fuel." Glycogen is to muscle as gasoline is to your car. Where does the stored glycogen come from? From the carbohydrates that you ingest. After those carbs are broken down into their simplest form, glucose, they can either be used for immediate fuel, or if all fuel needs are being met, can be stored as glycogen to be used for future movement and activity. When it's time for a workout, your physiology changes in such a way that you move into a state, not of glycogen storage, but of enhanced glycogen release. Your body accesses that stored fuel in order to meet the heightened energy demand. It's amazing how the human body is designed to maintain balance (homeostasis). Immediately after an intense workout, when glycogen stores are depleted, production of the enzymes that convert glucose into glycogen is increased offering an ideal opportunity to replenish fuel supply. The enzyme levels only remain elevated for about 30-45 minutes, allowing you a unique opportunity to consume sugar (glucose) and rush it into muscles to be used as fuel.

Second Vital Concern: Water

Glycogen repletion is only one primary concern post workout. The second would be re-hydrating. During exercise, you sweat and of course lose water. For optimal performance and recovery that water needs to be replaced. The newest guidelines put out by sports training coaches and physiologists suggest that in the 6 hours following exercise, 24 ounces of fluid should be consumed for every pound lost during exercise. An endurance athlete who loses five pounds during a workout would therefore need to consume 120 ounces of fluid. Bottled water is most often sold in 20-ounce bottles to give you a sense of the amount of water that is. Of course, most recreational exercisers will not lose five pounds, but might lose 1-2 requiring 24-48 ounces of liquid over the next six hours.

Third Vital Concern: Minerals

The third primary concern would be replenishing the electrolytes, sodium and potassium, minerals heavily involved in energy production and lost during periods of fluid release (sweating). Ingesting sodium and potassium immediately post workout facilitates faster and more complete re-hydration.

Water is not "best"

Since, in looking at the entire picture, re-hydration is just a piece of the overall recovery puzzle, water is not the best recovery drink immediately post workout. Yes, water can be sipped throughout the exercise session, and yes, over the next six hours it is important that you consume enough water to re-hydrate, but that 30-45 minute post-exercise window of opportunity is a rare period that you should take advantage of. Blood flow to muscles is greatly increased. The body needs to replenish glycogen, water, and electrolytes, thus, the most valuable post-exercise recovery aid would be a dilute liquid containing the necessary electrolytes and simple sugars. Gatorade was developed on that premise, but we now know we can do even better. There are some other ingredients that would optimize your post-workout concoction. While these are not as vital as the first three concerns, they can all contribute to getting the most rewarding outcome from your intense exercise sessions.


While glucose is preferentially rushed back into muscles in the post workout state, fructose has a tendency to work its way into replenishing liver glycogen stores. The liver, when called upon, acts as a "glucose pump," releasing glycogen for conversion into glucose to meet blood sugar needs. Fructose, therefore, should also be included in the post-workout drink.


Athletes placing their bodies under greater stress than the average person incurs, will have greater need for L-Glutamine. Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in muscle and in the bloodstream. If we seek to build muscle, or retain muscle under periods of stress (exercise is a stress), Glutamine becomes one of the most vital amino acids. In addition to its role in muscle, Glutamine is also called upon to meet intestinal stress and immune system function. If you're harboring a cold, you're under emotional stress at work, or your worries are causing an "upset" stomach, you run the risk of the body "robbing" L-Glutamine needed for muscle maintenance. Since we know muscle's all-important role in maintaining or improving metabolism, supplemental L-Glutamine moves to the top of the "valuable supplements for athletes and exercisers" list. Here's the challenge. L-Glutamine, in substantial amounts, can in itself lead to stomach upset. Secondly, when stomach acids meet L-Glutamine, much of it is destroyed. This process is slowed when L-Glutamine is ingested as a component of food, but in supplemental form, you'll get better transport with Glutamine Peptides.


If muscle strength or increase is a goal, creatine monohydrate can indisputably play a role. Sodium and glucose are involved in creatine transport, thus, if you are consuming a post-workout drink with sugars and electrolytes, you have a rare opportunity to expedite creatine transport. So, when considering an optimal post workout formula, you should seek out or create a liquid mix of glucose and fructose, sodium and potassium, L-glutamine (or glutamine peptides) and creatine monohydrate. You can add L-glutamine and creatine to a post-workout Gatorade or Powerade and you'd be on the right track . . . . but there's more. During exercise, cortisol production is increased. Cortisol facilitates muscle breakdown, thus, during exercise, you are breaking down muscle tissue. In order to repair and replace the muscle, now broken down into amino acids by cortisol, you must take in a complete array of essential amino acids. Complete proteins are not going to be ideal post workout. They'll take too long to work their way through the digestive tract, and since amino acids can be transported into the bloodstream along with glucose, you'll miss out on the enhanced transport post-workout opportunity.

Amino Acids

Amino acids are absorbed in chains. Small chains. Proteins are broken down by digestive enzymes into di and tri-peptides (chains of two and three amino acids). That's the form in which they're ultimately absorbed. If part of the goal is to build muscle, than this rare post workout opportunity can be even more enhanced by including a complete array of amino acids in the form of protein hydrolyzed (broken down) into di and tri-peptides. Add amino acids into the liquid glucose, fructose, electrolyte, glutamine, creatine mix and you've assembled a valuable product.

At this point, to benefit from this information, you must become one of two things. You must become either a label-reading detective, or a mad scientist. Why a mad scientist? Well that's what I felt like when I used to concoct my own post-workout formulas. I'd mix a glucose-fructose drink with liquid predigested amino acids (yuck), some powdered L-glutamine, creatine monohydrate, and a couple of multi mineral caps. You can concoct your own formula by buying a combination of products, or you can explore the labels, see through the claims, and find a product that really stands up to the science. Will this require a little effort? Sure, but what gratifying rewards have you ever achieved without a bit of effort? With a foundation of science, a bit of effort, and a consistent willingness to train, eat, and supplement supportively, attaining the edge you seek is in your control!

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