You have probably heard many rumours about what nutrients should be provided as a priority after strength training. As you might guess, a considerable part of them is simply untrue. It is worth to systematize knowledge of fast nutritional strategies which succour post-exercise regeneration in order to maximize advantages of favorable physiological circumstances and regenerative processes. This time I would like to take into consideration the question of that is better to be eaten after training: protein or carbohydrates?
Advertising, stories of your gym mates and pseudo-scientific arguments
Let's face it, hardly anyone really has time and desire to peruse scientific publications in search for information on what to eat and what supplements to take. The most common sources of this type of knowledge are "experienced" gym mates' opinions, entries on forums and marketing and advertising slogans. Unfortunately, building your knowledge on this type of sources does not guarantee that the data you collect have anything to do with reality. This article will describe the issue of post-training strategies and regeneration.
On the one hand you can come across theories claiming that after physical exertion the key issue is to have a portion of carbohydrates to renew energy reserves, to be exact: reserves of muscle glycogen; on the other, there are statements that portion of sugars consumed after workout inhibits anabolic response of the growth hormone this way making it difficult to regenerate. Enthusiasts of both concepts have many arguments to support their beliefs. Unfortunately, the problem is that sometimes these arguments are strong only in appearance... Let's try to explore the topic and answer the question in the title.
Strength training vs. the question of glycogen
The first question that comes to your mind in relation to that problem is whether strength training leads to drastic loss of muscle glycogen? Well, the answer is: probably not. Of course, a lot depends on the course of the exercise session and techniques to intensify which can significantly aggravate loss in energy reserves. In general, however, the average weight training session does not exhaust the muscle glycogen, but only depletes it. Most important is not how much reserves of glycogen during training will be depleted, but rather whether there is any need for its immediate replenishment and whether this issue is an absolute priority in relation to post-workout regeneration. Test results show that the time in which you supplement the lost muscle glycogen is important only if you plan further efforts in the next few hours.
So if you have already planned, after a morning session at the gym, to have a martial arts training in the evening, this is when you should start to bother with glycogen. In a situation when you have next workout in 24 or 48 hours, this issue becomes of secondary or even tertiary importance. Are carbohydrates simply unnecessary after workout? The answer is: no! Proper intake would have important benefits, such as it helps to provoke a response from the insulin - hormone that enhances glucose and amino acids transport into muscle and inhibits proteolysis, thanks to which it contributes to the net nitrogen balance. At this point, however, we come to the second major dilemma concerning carbohydrates' (or rather insuline's) influence on secretion of growth hormone.
Insulin and hGH
In recent times, more and more often you can hear theories that the intake of carbohydrates after strength training, through intensified insulin secretion, leads to reduction of response from growth hormone, which as you know, has anabolic properties. The efect of this complex dependency is worsen post-workout recovery. Hence, it may seem advisable to have only a portion of protein after workout instead of carbohydrates or a mix of these two components. Protein provides amino acids, that is building blocks which repair damaged muscle fibers, and at the same time does not impair the response from the GH. At the first glance, this theory seems consistent, since there is evidence that the intake of carbohydrates actually leads to a reduction in GH level. The problem is that in the post-exercise period the situation looks a little different.
Although there is little research on the above issues, the available scientific data indicate that adoption of carbohydrate at a dose of 1g / kg of body weight (along with protein in the amount of 0.4g per kg of body weight) immediately after weight training has more beneficial effects on secretion of growth hormone than consumption of proteins only or resignation from a meal for pure water. This means that during the post-exercise time physiological situation is more complicated than we think, and it can lead to a situation in which hormones which on an everyday basis don't interact with each other, strat functioning simultaneously in your favour. This information is of great significance: not only does it disprove arguments of opponents of eating carbohydrates after training, but also indicates the optimum direction in the selection of nutrients in the period following strength training.
A summary, that is: optimal solution
Research shows that both consumption of protein and carbohydrates after training brings certain advantages. In the first case you ensure adequate availability of amino acids for muscle microdamage' repairing processes and stimulate anabolic enzymes (which is mainly thanks to leucine - an amino acid which belongs to the BCAA). In the second case you evidently enhance insulin response which inhibits activity of catabolic enzymes, facilitating uptake of amino acids and glucose by muscles and providing fuel supply for anabolic processes and deposited in the form of glycogen reserves.
Most important, however, is that you do not have to think about which benefits are better (for the curious - after strength training is more important to eat protein than carbohydrates) because nothing stands in the way to eat both components together. In particular, there are research that quite unambiguously confirm that the acceptance of protein and carbohydrates carries the sum of profits derived from consumption of each component individually. So after workout you should take portions of carbohydrate-protein supplements or eat a properly balanced meal containing both macronutrients (eg. beef and potatoes, chicken breast with rice, cod with millet groat). This way you will make a good use of anabolic window helping to accelerate post-workout recovery.