To optimize my Post Workout (PWO) nutrition I've been experimenting with a few things lately (UPDATED: Post Workout Nutrition: Self Experimentation Redux)... it's a little bit of a departure from purely eating "real food", although I look at my PWO stack as a supplement and still eat a huge re-feed meal (real food) of grass-fed beef/salmon/eggs and sweet potatoes. This is also still a trial and error process, I'm experimenting with the various nutrient stacks to find what really works and doesn't for me, and I'd recommend you do the same if you're interested in a little biohacking! I'd personally stay away from the "Extreme Power Protein" type mixes out there, it's much better to make your own and know exactly what goes into it.
Research strongly shows that glucose helps with the body's absorption of nutrients after intense exercise, effectively "shuttling" the nutrients into the muscle tissue. Therefore, I think it's essential for a PWO stack to include a moderate (<20g, dose depends on intensity/duration) amount of natural sugars (roughly 70% glucose, 30% fructose optimal absorption) to aid in delivering any nutrients you have in your stack to the tissue/muscle. To blunt the blood sugar spike from the glucose, I add a natural whey protein concentrate (non-denatured, whole protein) to my stack (slows digestion), which also provides essential amino acids (whey protein concentrate is one of the most complete protein supplements) for muscle growth. Additionally, I've been adding Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) along with the whey as well (BCAAs essential for building muscle).
Alright, so here's the current stack I use in my PWO protein shake (11.2 oz ONE Coconut water w/ Whey Factors Chocolate). Coconut water has electrolytes (potassium, sodium, etc), it's good for hydration, and the sugar is approximately 70% glucose, 30% fructose:
- Creatine: ON Micronized Creatine Monohydrate (CM), muscle building staple and increased IQ (research, 2, 3). This is undoubtedly the supplement with the most impact on strength, recovery and performance, hands down. If I had to choose just one supplement out of the stack, this would be it! Recently, I've been experimenting with different forms of creatine to improve absorption (theres's creatine HCL, creatine kre-alkalyn, creatine ethyl ester, creatine malate, etc.), since I seem to be a CM non-responder. Although a little pricey, I think Creatine HCL is the best alternative form, and I've seen a big difference since switching from CM (research).
- Beta Alanine: NOW Beta Alanine, increases blood flow/circulation and increases endurance. The tingling sensation also blunts the PWO soreness, which can be nice after a long brutal ride (or lifting session).
- Citrulline Malate: Primaforce Citrulline Malate, Precursor to L-Arginine and provides prolonged NO production, Malic acid aids in ammonia disposal from increased protein metabolism (research, 2).
- L-Glutamine: NOW Glutamine, there's not much scientific evidence that Glutamine is really effective at improving strength/power directly, but it's good for your gut and with all the PWO food and other supplements I like to add it in too (After-all, you are what you "digest", not necessarily what you "eat").
- BCAAs: ON BCAA Unflavored, essential amino acids... UPDATE: Whey protein concentrate contains BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine and valine) and so does whole food (meats), so it's not essential to supplement with this. Some people swear by BCAAs, but personally I haven't noticed much of a difference with adequate protein intake. TL;DR - Won't hurt but might not be worth the money.
- L-Arginine: NOW L-Arginine, gives your muscles the PUMP (increases circulation), NO (nitric oxide) precursor in you body. UPDATE: I've tried this for a while and I haven't notice any difference at all. Maybe it makes a bigger difference pre-workout, but for me I'll just use citrulline malate in the future.
I use the suggested serving of each (for the most part, adjust to personal preference), mixed with the coconut water protein shake described above... Like I mentioned, I'd mess around with dosage and timing and see what works best for you! Personally, I work out fasted/semi-fasted (because of this) and just use the stack PWO. Many people take these supplements before working out for the PUMP/endurance gains, ymmv. Be careful with the Beta Alanine at first, the "tingling" effects are quit noticeable (I'm up to 1 level tsp now). Let me know if there are any additional suggestions in the comments... Good Luck!