Maintaining an anabolic environment during training sessions to promote recovery and prevent muscle breakdown. During exercise net protein breakdown and synthesis determines the level of recovery during post-exercising conditions2. It has been shown that consumption of at least 6 grams of protein can stimulate net protein synthesis after resistance training5 and that protein degradation can be increased post-exercise if net of protein consumption is in the negative range. Lack of proper ingestion of nutrients can lead to a net loss of protein that can put muscles in a catabolic state.
A primary goal for all athletes is to consume optimal nutrition to promote an anabolic environment within muscle tissue to help promote higher levels of recovery. Protein is an important macronutrient that can enhance recovery and prevent the loss of lean body mass during exercise. Anabolic environments can be created and protein synthesis can be enhanced by ingesting protein alone or by consuming it in combination with carbohydrates16.
Recovery post-exercise, after competition and between events is important. Pro baseball players experience multiple bouts of long- and short-duration pre-game activity with minimal recovery before games. Studies have shown that time to exhaustion is significantly longer when subjects consumed a mix of carbohydrates and protein than when they ingested only carbohydrates14. Consuming a mix of carbohydrate and protein has also been shown to elevate blood glucose, increase insulin production and enhance CHO oxidation during and post-exercise and produce positive performance effects9.
Intense exercise has been shown to induce both protein synthesis and protein breakdown. Fortunately, protein synthesis outweighs protein degradation. It is believed that a mixture of CHO and PRO can induce a greater anabolic environment for protein synthesis and enhance muscle glycogen recovery10. Ingestion of a mix of CHO and PRO has also been shown to increase recovery post-exercise by enhancing muscle glycogen recovery both post-exercise and between bouts of exercise9.
Protein and carbohydrate combination during training. It has been suggested that ingesting a mix of carbohydrate and protein will increase insulin responses and improve muscle glycogen stores post-exercise8. Consuming protein alone has also been shown to increase protein synthesis and prevent protein degradation by increasing amino acid availability3.
Physiological Mechanisms: Glycogen re-synthesis and sparring. Research has shown that glycogen stores in muscles can be depleted during a bout of resistance training9. Likewise, studies indicate that CHO supplementation during recovery from resistance training can stimulate glycogen re-synthesis9, 12. Research has also demonstrated that muscle glycogen re-synthesis is greater when a mix of PRO + CHO is ingested post-exercise and that the rate of re-synthesis may be enhanced due to increased levels of serum insulin levels15. Zawdzki, et. al., compared the effects of the ingestion of a mix of PRO + CHO on muscle glycogen storage to the consumption of CHO alone following recovery from exercise to fatigue19. Subject’s consumed different nutrient mixes immediately post-exercise and 2 hours later. Muscle biopsies taken post-exercise indicated that muscle glycogen stores in subjects who consumed a mix of CHO and PRO recovered faster than those who consumed CHO alone. The authors concluded that muscle glycogen synthesis can be increased better with a mix of CHO and PRO due to an increase in insulin response. They also found that the release of higher levels of insulin in tissues can result in higher rates of muscle glycogen resynthesis up to 2 hours post-exercise when PRO + CHO are consumed in combination than when isocaloric CHO or PRO supplements are consumed.
Physiological Mechanisms: Protein Synthesis. Ferguson-Stegall and colleagues evaluated the effects of post-exercise ingestion of beverages containing a mix of CHO and protein on performance and protein synthesis6. They compared the effects of three beverages (carbohydrates and protein in the form of chocolate milk, CHO only beverage and a placebo drink) on recovery and endurance performance on a bicycle ergometer. Subjects performed 3 bouts of exercise of 1.5 hours of duration at 70% of VO2 max. The supplements were consumed immediately post-exercise and every 2 hours up to 4 hours of recovery. Results indicated that the subjects that ingested CHO + PRO in the form of chocolate milk had faster time trials than both the iso-caloric CHO and placebo drink. Muscle biopsies taken at various points during recovery, and throughout exercise showed that muscle glycogen resynthesis was also greatest in the group the ingested CHO + PRO. The investigators also found phosphorylation and protein synthesis to be greater in the group that ingested the CHO + PRO beverage. This study suggested that post-exercise ingestion of supplements can provide an environment that promotes greater intra-cellular signaling leading to enhanced protein synthesis and improved exercise performance. Additional research has shown that the consumption of chocolate milk can help increase net protein and, when combined with 12 weeks of resistance training, can increase in muscle hypertrophy and improve body composition13.
Resistance training. Borsheim tested the hypothesis that a combination of carbohydrates and protein will stimulate a greater net protein synthesis than an isocaloric CHO drink after resistance training5. Subjects participated in 2 separate trials of resistance training sessions and ingested a mix of CHO and PRO 1-hour post exercise. Muscle biopsy samples taken during the course of the study indicated that CHO + PRO significantly stimulated muscle protein synthesis after exercise to a greater extend then CHO supplementation alone. These findings have been supported by previous studies that indicated that CHO + PRO combinations promote an anabolic effect in muscle tissue. This is important because there is a balance between protein synthesis and protein degradation during exercise, and if net protein is negative, muscles are said to be in a catabolic state. Therefore, optimal nutrient intake is essential to promote an anabolic environment and prevent muscle catabolism2.
Carbohydrate + Protein combination timing post-exercise. The primary purpose of the studies previously mentioned was to determine the effects of carbohydrate and protein beverages on exercise performance when ingested during and post-exercise. The goal was to determine if a mix of carbohydrate and protein was more effective in preventing glycogen depletion and promoting an anabolic environment than isocaloric drinks composed of carbohydrate or protein. It is interesting to note that protein has been shown to increase an anabolic environment during exercising and when added to carbohydrate beverages can be beneficial to recovery.
The primary effect of protein on performance enhancement during exercise has yet to be determined. It has been suggested that protein plays a role in sparring muscle glycogen during exercise and extends long-duration exercise8, 9, 14. A significant amount of research has shown that carbohydrate and protein combinations are most effective in enhancing performance when carbohydrate consumption is not optimal8,14, 15. Research is lacking to support the theory that consumption protein will enhance performance when added to carbohydrate beverages or that it will enhance glycogen utilization14. Further research is also needed to determine the primary mechanisms by which protein contributes to exercise duration and glycogen utilization when carbohydrates are ingested in less than optimal amounts.
Conclusions. The consumption of beverages containing a mix of proteins and carbohydrates during and after training may have a sparring effect on glycogen storage, promote an anabolic environment and enhance recovery. Current research suggests that consuming beverages containing a mix of PRO and CHO can enhance glycogen synthesis and other recovery processes. Research also indicates that post-exercise consumption of protein can create an anabolic environment that can help enhance recovery. More research is needed to define the mechanism(s) by which mix of protein and carbohydrate can enhance exercise endurance and recovery. Several studies have shown that PRO + CHO will not provide an ergogenic effect if carbohydrates are delivered at optimal rates (60 g/h) during exercise12, 17.
Recommendations. Optimal nutrition is a key to adaptions to training and recovery. It is important to recommend a good supplementation plan for athletes that participate in strenuous activity and competition during the calendar year. Supplements have been shown to increase performance and help promote recovery in athletes. With all the growing research to support the use of supplementation it’s hard not to suggest it as part of an athlete’s daily routine. I would recommend that an athlete ingest protein and carbohydrates supplements pre-, during, and post-exercise to maintain blood glucose levels, enhance muscle glycogen sparring, and promote an anabolic environment that enhance recovery. Because athletes may need to compete multiple times a day and participate in multiple bouts of exercise, it is important to promote the use of supplements around the time of exercise to help them perform at high levels throughout workouts and competitions.
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Anthony Velazquez, RSCC is a two-time Minor League Baseball Strength Coach of the Year (2016 and 2017) and is currently the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Trenton Thunder, the New York Yankees Eastern League affiliate.