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Nutrient Timing: Peak Exercise Performance

By at December 11, 2010 | 2:43 pm | Print

Nutrient Timing: Peak Exercise Performance

Nutrient Timing for Peak Performance written by Zach Zimmerman

Ever since Arnold stepped on stage, the world has become more aware of strength and fitness training. People have been joining gyms left and right to obtain the same bulging biceps and six pack abs. But the hard work and effort put in at the gym is not always enough. Experienced lifters and training enthusiasts know that training starts and ends well before and after you leave the gym. To ensure that getting the most from workouts, many experts hypothesize that it is important to ingest the right nutrients at the right time: pre, intra, and post workout.




With growing popularity of bodybuilding comes growing popularity of pre and post workout supplements. After comparing many of the top selling pre-workout supplements, I have noticed that there are two common ingredients: arginine and caffeine. Before understanding why these two are common, it must first be understood what they do. Arginine is an amino acid that has many claims behind it. It has been added to many pre workout supplements because it is believed to increase nitric oxide (a vasodilator), increase growth hormone levels, and aid in protein synthesis resulting in an increase of muscle mass and strength. In a study conducted in 2007 by a group of researchers, the effectiveness of L-arginine on adding muscle mass was put to the test. These researchers took 20 healthy males and split them into two groups. One group was given a 3:1 ratio of arginine to vitamin C daily, and the other just vitamin C. They worked out their legs three times a week for eight weeks using 70% of their maximum weight and three sets of exercise for ten repetitions per muscle. Total body weight, muscle mass, and body fat percentage were measured before and after the eight-week program. After the full eight weeks, the group administered arginine saw a “significant” increase in all three categories, as well as strength, that the vitamin C group did not. “…the ARG group saw a significant increase of body weight (66.4 +/- 6.1-67.84+/-6.8 Kg), and muscular mass (60.8 +/-6.05-62.07 +/- 5.9 Kg) and decrease of fat mass (6.02 +/-.6 – 5.77 +/- 0.59 Kg) and body fat percentage (9.45 +/- 0.8 – 8.66 +/- 0.77),”(1). The study provided evidence to back up the claims made about arginine, validating the idea to take the amino acid pre-workout.

Caffeine is a popular supplement pre workout because of the claims that it lowers the threshold for an action potential to occur and the energy that it gives. Caffeine is a stimulant that excites the central nervous system, regulating blood flow to skeletal muscle preparing for “freight or flight”. But how does this translate to the weight room? Anthony Colpo, an independent researcher and conditioning specialist, read and summarized a series of studies involving caffeine and its effects on performance. His research found that when ingested 60 minutes before and during workout, the average improvement of cycling endurance was 4.3% compared to pre workout alone which saw a 2.3% improvement. However, when it came to maximum strength and power, there was no significant increase in test subjects’ bench or leg press (2). By combining 3-6mg/kg of caffeine, and 3 grams of L-arginine 60 minutes pre workout, you are increasing both your endurance and physical strength.

The next “window” is intra workout. A common trend is the use of Branched Chain Amino Acids during one’s workout. These three amino acids, leucine, iso-leucine, and valine, are oxidized in skeletal muscle rather than the liver. By ingesting a BCAA product, more of these amino acids are made available to the skeletal muscle. The claim on these products is that they prevent mental fatigue resulting in an increase in performance. Heather Mangieri compared multiple studies on the subject to see if BCAA’s lived up to the claim. To make sure they were comparable, she looked at studies that used the same set-up: having test subjects ingest BCAA before and during exercise. In the first study, there was a control group and a group that took in 90mg/kg of BCAA 15 minutes prior and every 15 minutes during their workout. This study found that there was no difference in physical performance between the groups. (4)

Another study that she refers to was done by separating the groups into a high-dosage and low-dosage group. The low-dosage group took in 7.8 grams before and during exercise, while the high-dosage group took in 23.4 grams. Like the first experiment, this found no difference in performance between test subjects. Overall, she looked at 6 studies, all concluding the Branched Chain Amino Acids do not live up to the claim of fighting fatigue and improving performance (4). Studies on Branched Chain Amino Acids do not back up the claims made about such products, rendering them non-effective in fighting fatigue.

The most used supplement for gym goers in protein, often consumed right after completing one’s workout, called the post workout window. Protein is composed of amino acids that combine and fold to form muscle tissue. When lifting weights or other forms of exercise, you are breaking the muscle. Ingesting protein following exercise feeds the broken down muscles the needed amino acids for optimal recovery due to the increase in rate of protein synthesis. The question that is typically asked from this is “how much?”. A team of researchers took a group of 6 males and put them through a series of 5 intense leg training sessions, each on different occasions. After each session they were given either 0, 5, 10, 20, or 40 grams of egg protein. They found that 20 grams of protein was enough to fully stimulate protein synthesis. Anything more was of no further benefit, and anything less did not reach maximum protein synthesis stimulation (3).




New research is showing carbohydrates to have equal importance on recovery as protein. Carbohydrates are stored in the liver as glycogen and are the main source of energy during exercise. Because of this, glycogen is often completely depleted from the liver. Consuming carbohydrates post workout will replenish these energy stores, maximizing recovery preparing for the next workout session. Recovery is important as when this is when the muscle is repairing itself and growing bigger and stronger. To test the claims made about carbohydrates, Ivy and his colleagues had twelve cyclists cycle until glycogen levels were completely depleted. Half of the group consumed a high carbohydrate drink consisting of 2 grams/kg immediately afterwards and the other half 2 hours afterwards. Subjects who consumed the drink right after saw a faster rate of glycogen synthesis. Just like protein, the next question became how much to take. The same team took 8 subjects and had them complete the same test. They then had them consume either a placebo, 1.5 grams of glucose/kg, or 3 grams of glucose/kg. The new test revealed no greater glycogen synthesis between the two carbohydrate groups. (3). To properly promote recovery, 20 grams of protein along with a high glycemic carbohydrate is ideal following a workout.

Physical fitness and bodybuilding are becoming more and more popular. Weather it be a dream physique or better athletic performance, people want to reap the many benefits of weight training and physical exercise. To ensure getting the most from a training session, it is important to put the right nutrients into the body at the right time. Both caffeine and arginine are proven ingredients commonly ingested pre workout to maximize nitric oxide levels, build lean muscle mass, and provide plenty of energy for the most grueling workouts. Branched Chain Amino Acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine are commonly taken during workouts. Thought to increase stamina and prolong the workout, studies prove such drinks ineffective. While protein is thought of as the most important nutrient when it comes to resistance training, studies show equal importance of carbohydrates in ensuring full recovery. Taking 3-6mg/kg of caffeine and 3 grams of arginine before, as well as 20 grams of protein with a high glycemic carbohydrate immediately after training will maximize one’s training.
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Works Cited

1.Angeli, Gerseli, Turibio Leite de Barros , Daniel Furquim Leite de Barros, and Marcelo Lima. “Investigation of the effects of oral supplementation of arginine in the increase of muscular strength and mass .” Rev Bras Med Esporte. 13.2 (2007): 112-15. Print.

2.Colpo, Anthony. “Using Caffeine to Boost Athletic Performance.” Anthony Colpo. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Nov 2010. <http://anthonycolpo.com/?p=350>.

3.Genton, Laurence, Katarina Melzer, and Claude Pichard. “Energy and macronutrient requirements for physical fitness in exercising subjects.” Clinical Nutrition. 29.4 (2010): 413-23. Print.

4.Mangieri, Heather. “Does Supplementing the Diet with       Branched Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) Supplements Improve Exercise Performance? .” Nutrition Check Up. Nutrition Check Up,. 23 Nov 2010. http://www.nutritioncheckup.com/docs/Does%20Supplementing%20the%20Diet%20with%20Branched%20Chain%20Am.pdf

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