Supplementing for Performance

3 of 3 in our Supplementation Made Simple Series.

Supplementing for Performance Supplementing for performance is a little bit like taking Viagra – timing is of the utmost importance! There are three key “windows of opportunity”. In the pre-workout window you can take a stimulating compound to improve performance, during and post workout we want to help prevent muscle breakdown, promote recovery and encourage muscular growth. In this article I’m going to explain the science behind the more commonly used supplements that help repair and recovery.

Immediately after exercise there are three main physiological events that can be manipulated for enhanced recovery. Supplementation strategies should be geared toward replenishing glycogen stores, increasing protein synthesis (uptake) and decreasing protein breakdown in order to maintain the muscle protein balance. Glycogen is muscle energy and low stores mean that there’s less cellular energy for daily life and subsequent workouts. Having a negative muscle protein balance means the body will be breaking down (catabolism) faster then it is building up (anabolism). Failure to rapidly ensure recovery mode has several potential consequences;

1. Prolonged muscle soreness and fatigue.

2. Poor subsequent performance.

3. Stagnation or overtraining.

4. Minimal gains in muscle mass or even muscle loss.

The following supplements are those that are more commonly used to prevent these negative results.

Branch Chain Amino Acids – BCAA’s

BCAA’s make up a third of the protein in muscle. They are especially useful for helping to build lean muscle. BCAAs promote protein synthesis helping to increase anabolism. Consumed during training they raise both growth hormone and insulin at the same time resulting in increased anti-catabolism or breakdown. They also help increase testosterone levels while lowering cortisol levels, this helps to keep a positive muscle protein balance. There is a pronounced decrease in post workout soreness when supplementing with BCAAs and they have been proven to prolong endurance performance. Take 5 to 10g pre and post workout.

Whey Protein

In the post workout window of opportunity we want to provide the body with the most bio-available source of protein possible. Whey in a liquid form is a fast absorbing protein that is digested absorbed and assimilated in just three hours. This means that it is ideal for use as a post workout supplement when the body is most insulin sensitive. The rate of protein synthesis and possibly muscle growth increases when it is consumed after a workout. It can also be used immediately upon waking particularly if you are heading for the gym in the early morning. An average sized male can take anywhere between 30 to 50 grams of whey post workout, women should take about 2/3 of the quantity of males. The exact dose is dependent on the nature of your workout and your own physical size.


Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in muscle. It is utilised as a fuel by the gastro-intestinaI tract, the immune system, the liver and the kidneys. It offers great protection for the gastro-intestinal tract as it is the preferred fuel for the guts cells helping to repair and rebuild damaged mucosal tissue. It even helps to improve the formation of the villi, which are the finger like protrusions that line the gut and absorb nutrients into the body. Glutamine is also great for the immune system. Over trained athletes have been found to have decreased levels and supplementation of it has been found to reduce rates of infection in athletes. It is used medically during trauma, infections and burns to aid patient recovery. Add 5 to 10gram of glutamine to your post-workout shake to aid recovery and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).


Creatine is named after the Greek word for flesh. It is found in meat and fish but is also naturally synthesized in the human body. It is derived from the AA glycine, arginine, and methionine, synthesized mainly in the liver and kidneys and stored primarily in skeletal muscle.

The main energy pathway used during short intense bouts of training is the phosphagen system and it uses phosphocreatine for energy. Oral consumption saturates the muscle content of creatine and improves the ability of your muscles to resynthesize ATP (the bodies basic energy currency) following high intensity short duration exercise thus enhancing overall exercise performance by increasing both muscular endurance and anaerobic power.

Creatine is the most scientifically supported supplement with well over 100 studies showing that it is safe and effective. It has been found to improve maximal continuous jumping, maximal knee extensions, 1 rep maximum bench press, repeated bouts of jump squats and repeated bouts of sprints in soccer players. Creatine supplementation combined with strength training amplifies and enhances the muscle fibre growth in response to strength training. However it does not work for everyone and approximately 30% of the population are non-responders who find they have none or little of the positive effects others feel. Doses can include an initial loading phase followed by a more regular dose of 5g taken daily.

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