As fitness enthusiasts we tend to focus much more on the doing—sprinting, lifting, contracting—then on the process of recovery. But if we don’t allow our muscles to recover, we can’t perform, compete, or train at our best. Just as our brains process information and create and consolidate memories as we sleep, so, too, do our muscles re-synthesize, re-calibrate, and grow when we rest. We can accelerate muscle growth during recovery by boosting muscle protein synthesis with amino acid nutrition support.
How Muscle Recovery Works
When you exercise, you damage the muscles. Whether you are running or lifting weights, your muscles undergo continual contraction and form microscopic tears. In rush satellite cells to fuse damaged muscle fibers together, creating newer, stronger, better, and bigger muscle fibers in the process. Think of satellite cells as stem cells for your muscles. They are made of protein, and therefore amino acids, to aid muscle recovery after a workout and stimulate the production of more durable muscle.
We’ve all felt sore after a workout. That’s our muscles responding to localized damage, and the cascade of inflammatory molecules and immune cells that are catalyzing satellite cells into muscle recovery action. For the next 24 to 48 hours after a workout your body is responding to the effects of exercise, and the protein-rich foods you eat and the amino acids you ingest can deliver the nutrients your muscles need to grow in size and strength. According to a National Institutes of Health study, muscle protein synthesis (the process of building up your muscles) is heightened by 50% 4 hours after a resistance workout and by 109% 24 hours post workout.
Muscle Recovery Supplements
Amino acids and muscle recovery go hand in hand. You need all 20 amino acids that make up the proteins in your body for optimal muscle recovery. Eleven of those amino acids are produced in the body, but nine are essential amino acids, meaning they must be consumed in the diet because they are not produced in the body.
Supplementing after a workout with an amino acid powder that contains all the essential amino acids is an effective way to activate muscle protein synthesis and aid in muscle recovery. An essential amino acid powder supplement stimulates the reutilization of the 11 nonessential amino acids for protein synthesis, thereby decreasing their oxidation and resultant increase in ammonia and urea, which further aids muscle recovery. Providing your muscles with the amino acid nutrition they require keeps your muscles protected. Without amino acid support, your body has no choice but to eat away at its own muscle tissue for energy.
A BCAA supplement is a popular muscle recovery supplement for bodybuilders and workout buffs. It makes sense, as the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) make up nearly 35% of your muscle tissue. BCAAs are a source of fuel for the muscles, and may accelerate muscle soreness recovery. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition investigated the effects of BCAAs on delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and muscle fatigue during squat exercises. When taken prior to exercise, participants experienced reduced DOMS and muscle fatigue a few days post workout, leading researchers to conclude that BCAAs can be a useful muscle recovery supplement.
There is a caveat to taking BCAA supplements, however. An amino acid muscle recovery supplement that only contains the BCAAs doesn’t have as much of an effect on muscle protein synthesis as an amino acid powder that contains every essential amino acid in its ideal concentration for stimulating muscle building.
The synthesis of complete proteins requires adequate availability of ALL the essential amino acids. The extent of stimulation of muscle protein synthesis when consuming BCAAs is limited by the fact that you will quickly run short of the other essential amino acids. In addition, giving only BCAAs disrupts the normal balance of amino acids in the blood. An excess of BCAAs in the blood relative to the other amino acids can also cause undesirable responses, including disruption of the normal production of neurotransmitters in the brain. When it comes to amino acids and muscle recovery, complete amino acid nutrition is recommended.
While an essential amino acid supplement after exercise can provide important benefits, realize that it is a supplement to your regular diet. Eating protein-rich, amino-abundant foods after your workout is also important to give your muscles the nutritive support they need.