Building muscle and strength involves intense training and proper nutrition. Do these two things, along with sufficient rest and recovery, and you’re all but guaranteed to make gains. But there’s been an “issue” that’s developed over the past year or two since the whole “anabolic window” theory more or less was “debunked”.
Truth be told, the “anabolic window” still exists, it just lasts a whole lot longer than initially thought. This has led competitive and non-competitive lifters alike to eschew the importance of proper peri-workout (around training) nutrition with the thinking that, “all that matters is calories at the end of the day.”
While this is true to a certain extent, it’s not really the best way to go about things, especially if you’re a high-level athlete looking to get that extra 1% better in order to take home the gold medal.
Make no mistake, nutrient timing is still a priority, particularly if you’re looking to get bigger, faster, stronger, and recovery quicker.
That’s why we’re here -- to discuss the importance of peri-workout nutrition, especially with regard to EAAs, and how taking them before, during, and after your workout can lead to new feats of strength, size, and recovery.
Before we get to how you should dose your EAAs peri-workout, let’s take a second to actually see what’s going in inside your muscles during your actual workout.
Most of us that have been in the iron game awhile know that it’s not the actual workout that builds muscle. Quite the opposite in fact. Resistance training (i.e. weight lifting) involves ripping, tearing, and destroying your muscle fibers, and it’s in the hours and days following your workout that your body uses the fuel (food) you put in it to repair, recover, and grow bigger and stronger.
During training, blood flow increases, particularly in the muscles that you’re working, which is part of the reason you get a nice muscle pump during training. But you probably didn’t realize that blood flow can skyrocket up by 400%, compared to resting levels?!
That’s a tremendous surge in blood flow throughout the body, particularly to those working muscles. Along with this comes tremendous increases in growth hormone (GH), insulin sensitivity, and, most importantly, muscle protein synthesis.[3,4] As you’re probably know, with increased blood flow comes
● increased oxygen and nutrient delivery to skeletal muscles
● enhanced waste removal
And it’s here where we can start to really see the benefits to consuming EAAs peri-workout.
Those “nutrients” that are delivered to your muscles include essential amino acids (EAAs) -- the building blocks of muscle tissue.
Essentially, intense exercise gives us a perfect trifecta (elevated growth hormone, insulin sensitivity, and protein synthesis) for building muscle. All we need to do is supply it with the proper raw materials, and your body will get to building bigger, stronger muscles faster.
Now you begin to understand not only why you want EAAs around training, but why you absolutely need them!
Without sufficient EAAs, your body doesn’t have the raw materials necessary for muscle repair and growth, setting you up for unwanted catabolism (i.e. muscle protein breakdown).
There’s often a debate over whether BCAA are an acceptable substitute for EAA, and in reality, they aren’t. There’s nothing “wrong” with BCAA supplements, it’s just that for building and repairing muscle, they are incomplete. BCAA supplements typically only provide the three BCAA (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), not the other six essential amino acids needed for muscle growth and repair.
BCAA are definitely beneficial and necessary. They are part of the EAA family after all, it’s just that they’re not all they were originally hyped to be. In truth, BCAA are great for supporting energy production and endurance.[5,6] They’re also good for reducing fatigue and preventing muscle breakdown[7,8], but, they’re not the right tool for building muscle. In that sense, think of BCAA as muscle protectors while EAA are muscle builders.
The distinction is small, but nevertheless, important, especially if you want to make those gains!
Recent research has even backed this up too.
A trio of recently published studies have shown that when it comes to maximizing the muscle building effects of exercise, EAAs are where it’s at.
“The magnitude of this increased response of myofibrillar-MPS was ~50% less than the previously reported myofibrillar-MPS response to a dose of whey protein containing similar amounts of BCAA…
...results demonstrate that BCAAs exhibit the capacity to stimulate myofibrillar-MPS, however a full complement of EAA could be necessary to stimulate a maximal response of myofibrillar-MPS following resistance exercise…
...Our data support the notion that BCAA ingestion alone does not maximally stimulate myofibrillar-MPS following exercisedespite stimulation of translation initiation pathways. The lack of sufficient EAA appears to limit the response of myofibrillar-MPS following exercise…ingestion of BCAAs alone may not be the optimal nutritional regimen to stimulate a maximal MPS response to resistance exercise training.”
“An extensive search of the literature has revealed no studies in human subjects in which the response of muscle protein synthesis to orally-ingested BCAAs alone was quantified… found that BCAAs decreased muscle protein synthesis as well as protein breakdown, meaning a decrease in muscle protein turnover… We conclude that the claim that consumption of dietary BCAAs stimulates muscle protein synthesis or produces an anabolic response in human subjects is unwarranted.”
”In summary, oral supplementation with BCAA following resistance exercise stimulates mTORC1 signaling more potently than ingestion of leucine alone, but not as effectively as EAA.”
The takeaway from these studies is that BCAA supplements are better than nothing, but if you’re looking for “the best” route to muscle repair and growth, choose EAAs every time.
There’s often a question of when should you dose your EAAs -- pre, intra, or post. Truth be told, you can take them at any point, or at three if you prefer, but there is one particular piece of research that sheds some light on the “most optimal” time to take EAAs.
“An increased net uptake of EAAs translates to increased muscle protein synthesis. We found this to be the case, because a mixture of 6 g EAAs + 35 g glucose given immediately before exercise resulted in a greater stimulation of net muscle protein balance than when it was given either immediately or 1 h after exercise.”
So, while EAAs can be taken anytime before, during, or after you’re training session, if you’re looking to really refine and dial-in your peri-workout nutrition, it may be best, at least according to one study, to dose them before you start training.
To help you hit your EAA needs around training, and any other time of day, RedCon1 has created Grunt , a comprehensive essential amino acid supplement that delivers a robust serving of all the necessary EAAs, including a massive 6g of 2:1:1 BCAA!