Just like you plan your gym routine, you should also plan your diet to maximize your workouts. Because giving that extra effort will make a noticeable difference in your day-to-day activity. 

Here are some tips for timing your protein intake and knowing which micronutrients can maximize your performance and recovery.

Maximizing Protein Intake

Most athletes are well aware of the importance of protein. One of protein’s primary roles is to build and repair muscle tissue. But unlike carbohydrates and fats, the body doesn’t have a protein reservoir to draw from.

When you engage in intense exercise, you use carbs and fats for the energy to do so. But when you run out of carbs and fats, protein must step in, even if it needs to be stolen from tissues like your skeletal muscles.

That’s why consuming post-workout protein is important – it helps repair existing muscle tissue and it initiates new muscle growth by jumpstarting a process known as myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS).

But is it as simple as slamming down a protein shake after a workout? A 2014 study clarifies how protein consumption optimizes MPS. This study compared the consumption of varying protein combinations to examine which combination best supports maximum MPS.

In the study, 40 men (ages 18-35) were randomly assigned to one of five groups based on various protein combinations.1 Each group consumed their assigned protein combination after conducting resistance exercise. The five groups were: 

  • Low protein – 6.25 grams of whey protein
  • Low protein + low leucine – 6.25 grams of whey protein and 3 grams of leucine
  • Low protein + branched chain amino acids (BCAA) – 6.25 grams of whey protein and a BCAA blend containing 5 grams of leucine
  • Low protein + high leucine – 6.25 grams of whey protein and 5 grams of leucine
  • High protein – 25 grams of whey protein

The study is also unique in that the protein combinations were mixed with a nutrient beverage containing carbohydrates and fat – a common real-world setting.

So, what did the study find? All protein combinations positively impacted MPS in the immediate period following exercise (0-1.5 hours). However, only two combinations achieved optimal MPS after 1.5-4.5 hours – the low-protein + high-leucine group and the high-protein group.

Interestingly, while both groups achieved optimal MPS, the low-protein + high-leucine group needed only one-fourth as much protein to do so as the high-protein group.

What does that mean for athletes? By adding protein and five grams of leucine to your post-workout routine, you can help your body achieve an optimal state of MPS. 

Because of the relatively high leucine content of whey, Thorne’s Whey Protein isolate is popular among athletes and active individuals. A one-scoop serving of Thorne’s Whey Protein Isolate contains 21 grams of protein and 2.2 grams of leucine.

Maximizing Your Micronutrients

But protein is just part of the story. You can also help maximize muscle performance and recovery with properly timing the consumption of certain minerals and special nutrients.

A more recent study analyzed the latest research on muscle performance based on specific timings of consuming select minerals and other performance aids – iron, calcium, creatine, beta-alanine, nitrates, and caffeine.Here is what they found. 

  • Iron, at 100 mg/day for 3-6 weeks, favorably impacts oxygen-carrying capacity and endurance exercise performance.* Note: iron should only be consumed if blood test results show low iron.
  • Calcium, at 1,000 mg/day, should be consumed 60 minutes before exercise for up to 12 months to support bone density and balance parathyroid hormone levels.*

For Creatine and Beta-Alanine, two common supplements for athletes and other active individuals, the study found: 

  • Creatine, at a maximum dose of 5 grams (or 0.1 g/kg body weight) for 10-12 weeks, improves high-intensity exercise capacity, muscle mass, and strength by increasing phosphocreatine and ATP production.*
  • Beta-alanine, at 1.3-1.6 grams consumed four times throughout the day for a daily total of 6-7 grams on days of high-intensity exercise and resistance training, decreases neuromuscular fatigue.*

Nitrates, another popular workout supplement, work through the body’s nitric oxide pathways by increasing blood flow and muscular contractility and decreasing oxygen requirements during endurance exercise.

The study found that nitrates dosed per manufacturer recommendations (because all are not of equal potency) should be consumed 2-3 hours before exercise to best improve endurance and intermittent exercise capacity.

Caffeine, between 100-300 mg (or 3-6 mg/kg body weight), should be consumed two hours or less before exercise because of caffeine’s fast action and rapid clearance from the bloodstream. Caffeine has positive benefits for improving fat utilization, mental strength, muscular strength, endurance, and decreasing fatigue.

Other tips for making the most of your workout 

If you are wondering what you can do during a workout to enhance performance, the simplest strategy is to stay hydrated, an often-overlooked aspect of working out – especially in the weekend warrior crowd.

Vigorous physical activity always causes sweating, which leads to fluid and electrolyte loss, which can hinder performance. A 2-percent loss of an individual’s body weight lost through sweat will impair athletic performance, and a 5-percent loss of body weight lost through sweat decreases the body’s capacity to do work by 30 percent.

This is where an electrolyte supplement, such as Thorne’s Catalyte® comes in handy. Catalyte combines electrolytes with B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, chromium, and D-ribose (the latter helps slow lactic acid build-up and stimulates energy recovery) for broad-spectrum nutrient repletion.*

Catalyte’s blend of potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, and chloride replaces the primary electrolytes lost in sweat, while also helping to repair and rebuild muscle tissue.* Catalyte is easily mixed with water to create a tasty lemon-lime flavored supplement low in calories with no artificial sweeteners.


References

1.  Churchward-Venne T, Breen L, Di Donato D, et al. Leucine supplementation of a low-protein mixed macronutrient beverage enhances myofibrillar protein synthesis in young men: a double-blind, randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr 2014;99(2):276-286.

2. Stecker R, Harty P, Jagim A, et al. Timing of ergogenic aids and micronutrients on muscle and exercise performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2019;16(1):37.