Are you ruining your gains by eating carbs straight after workout?

Most people consume simple carbohydrates straight after working out. This is supposed to replace the sugar burned up during the workout and replenish glycogen stores. However, whereas this might make sense after cardio exercise, it is not the wisest course of action for bodybuilders after some serious training with weights. Because of the effect of sugar on growth hormone levels it will blunt the effectiveness of the exercise on muscle gain. To maximize the growth of muscles from your weights workouts, bodybuilders are better advised to take an amino acid supplement, particularly one with branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), which stimulate protein synthesis.

One of the effects of exercise is a surge in growth hormone levels right after working out. Growth hormone (GH) is an anabolic hormone. Working through insulin-like growth factor(IGF-1) it stimulates protein synthesis, and an expansion in muscle fibers. However not all exercise is equally effective at raising growth hormone levels. Resistance training with heavy weights causes a much greater increase in GH then cardio. This is why you train with weights when you want to build up your muscles. It is also why you shouldn’t waste the hard work of your training by interfering with the GH response by eating carbohydrates right after your workout. The exercise-induced elevated GH level does not last for a long time, perhaps you have 30-60 minutes of a growth hormone peak, and enhanced protein synthesis and muscle growth. If you are a bodybuilder, you obviously don’t want to do, or eat, anything that will interfere with GH secretion during this period. 

Once the GH levels go back down to normal and the muscle gain after the workout achieved, is the time to take on carbohydrates, to restore glycogen stores in the liver and muscle. This advice is different from what is usually followed by athletes and it reflects the fact that you have different aims when you are trying to maximize muscle gain. Other athletes frequently are more interested in developing cardiovascular fitness or endurance, rather than to bulk up their muscles as much as possible, and they are not as reliant on making the most of the post-exercise growth hormone peak.

So what should you consume right after lifting weights to maximize your muscle gain? Rather than eating carbohydrates, what you really want is an amino acid supplement that will work synergistically with the higher levels of growth hormone to stimulate protein synthesis and new muscle fiber formation. Xbrain’s AminoCharged is a unique formula that aims to achieve just that. Not only does it contain branched chain amino acids (BCAA) and glutamine, but also a nucleotide complex from yeast RNA, as well as vitamins, minerals and acai berry powder.

There are three amino acids in the group of BCAAS, leucine, valine and isoleucine. These amino acids are not merely the building blocks of proteins, but they also have signaling functions through the mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) protein complex that activates elongation factors necessary for the translation of messenger RNA into peptide chains. The mTOR complex is often considered as the cellular nutrient sensor. When the concentration of leucine is high the complex becomes phosphorylated and activated, which ‘tells’ the cell that there are plentiful nutrients and that it is a good time to maximize proteins synthesis, and perhaps even divide. The data is very clear that taking a BCAA supplement inhibits protein breakdown and stimulates protein synthesis. Since this is also the effect of the growth hormone released after intense resistance training, the effects add up to maximize protein synthesis and lean muscle gain.

Branched chain amino acids are burned directly in the muscle cells for energy during exercise. For this reason BCAAs become quickly depleted during your workout, and their levels are probably very low in your body directly afterwards. This does not encourage maximum muscle growth despite the high growth hormone levels. Just taking complete protein after exercise is not ideal, since protein needs to be digested before before it can be absorbed from the digestive tract. By the time the protein is absorbed, your peak GH levels have passed, and you will not be adding to your muscle fibers. What you want to achieve is a time when you have high GH levels, high BCAA levels, and as low cortisol levels as possible at the same time.

But, important though BCAAs are for their anabolic actions, there are other nutrients that can also improve the recovery period after a workout. For example another amino acid, glutamine, is well known to stimulate the release of growth hormone. GH already peaks after weight training, but the inclusion of glutamine in Xbrain’s AminoCharged supplement can amplify this peak, and possibly maintain it for a little bit longer. Sadly the increase in GH after exercise does not last very long. Hence it is important to try to maintain it for as long as possible. Glutamine is also the most common amino acid in our proteins, acts as the precursor for several other non-essential amino acids, and plays a significant role in maintaining a positive nitrogen balance, which encourages the cells to make more protein.

Not all of the effects of exercise on hormone levels are so positive. Exercise is perceived by the body as stress and causes the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Cortisol is the body’s chief stress hormone. Its function is to prepare the body for the flight and fight response by, among other things, raising the blood sugar levels so there is a lot of fuel available for any sudden intense effort that might be required. Cortisol therefore causes the breakdown of muscle proteins and the release of free amino acids, which can then be taken up for liver and turned into sugars through the process of gluconeogenesis. Cortisol also shuts down the body’s systems that are not necessary for immediate survival, such as the immune and reproductive systems. Because of this it inhibits the release of testosterone. Cortisol’s actions are therefore strongly catabolic and its release after exercise works against the buildup of muscle.

Luckily BCAAs inhibit the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands while also stimulating the release of testosterone. In this way BCAAs counteract the action of cortisol by stimulating protein synthesis, and also directly by blocking cortisol release. But since there is no such thing as too much cortisol inhibition AminoCharged also contains Xbrain’s breakthrough nucleotide complex isolated from yeast RNA. New benefits of nucleotides are being discovered all the time by researchers. For example in two independent clinical trials athletes who used a nucleotide supplement had lower cortisol levels after a workout than athletes who took a placebo control. This clearly shows that nucleotides lower the amount of cortisol released after exercise, so they work together with BCAAs and glutamine to increase the muscle gained in the post-workout recovery period.

The period directly after your workout is when you the muscle gain from lifting weights happens. At this time there is a brief peak in growth hormone levels, which cause your muscle fibers to grow. Many people take simple carbohydrates at this time, thinking that they need to quickly replace the glycogen in the muscles. However, this is counterproductive, since it causes insulin levels to rise, which inhibits growth hormone secretion. Carbohydrates straight after a workout causes you to waste the effort you’ve put in, since you don’t gain as much muscle as you could. A much better strategy is to take a BCAA drink, since branched chain amino acids stimulate protein synthesis. An even better plan is to take a BCAA supplement such as Xbrain’s AminoCharged, which also contains glutamine, to raise GH even further, and nucleotides to block cortisol release and increase testosterone levels.

Further Reading:

Insulin inhibits growth hormone signalling:

BCAAs stimulate protein synthesis and muscle gain:

glutamine stimulates growth hormone release: