During physical activity, particularly intense physical exercise, the body will use up your available glycogen stores. Glycogen is one of the most immediately available forms of energy found in the body and is stored within your muscle tissue. After exercise your glycogen stores will be depleted, as will the available protein in the muscle.
Replenishing these depleted stores can be achieved through the consumption of carbohydrates (most people think of bread, rice, pasta and fruit as carbohydrates, but carbohydrates can be found in most foodstuffs).
Carbohydrates are essential for the body to be able to recover from the exercise itself. This is particularly important if you are looking to grow new muscle, though as you’d expect, building muscle would also require the consumption of a post-workout protein. With that said, it’s highly recommended to consume both protein and carbohydrates together following your workout.
Consuming both protein and carbohydrates following exercise (we recommend doing so within one hour) can aid your body in:
- Decreasing muscle protein breakdown (muscle loss)
- Increasing muscle protein synthesis (muscle growth)
- Restoring glycogen stores (recovering energy)
- Enhancing recovery time
What’s more, the combination of protein and carbohydrates consumed together has been proven to increase insulin secretion by the body. Insulin increases glycogen synthesis, so this further adds to your body’s ability to recover and grow.
When it comes to carbohydrate consumption, the diet industry has put an over emphasis on linking carbohydrate intake with weight gain. However, weight gain and fat storage primarily comes down to an individual’s overall day-by-day calorie intake and whether or not this is higher than the amount the body requires. For the average active individual, even those who are looking to grow muscle, carbohydrate intake should typically be the highest of the main three macro-nutrients (aka 'macros'), the other two being fats and protein. The carbohydrates that you consume immediately following exercise are the least likely to result in unnecessary fat storage as your body will be craving carbohydrates for conversion into the glycogen it needs to heal and replenish its energy stores.
The benefits of protein supplements
As the body needs both protein and carbohydrates in order to recover following exercise, protein supplements often include blends of high protein but also similar or higher ratios of carbohydrates. This combination means that the supplement can act as a recovery catalyst and support most exercise goals.
It's important to remember, however, that the total amount of calories consumed remains criticaly important - if you're looking to lose weight you will need to be in a calorie deficit (consuming fewer calories that you body needs). The converse is true if you're looking to increase your size. Of course, this is an over-siimplification, but a good rule-of-thumb nonetheless.