The Importance of Pre and Post Exercise Amino Acids/Carbs

by: Robbie Durand, M.A., C.S.C.S.
The Importance of Pre and Post Exercise Amino Acids/Carbs

A few days ago I was getting myself into my pre-workout ‘jacked’ phase having consumed a protein/carbohydrate supplement with some added leucine about an hour earlier when I started noticed a couple of the younger gym rats drinking Power-Aid.  It hit me then, I felt like Jessie Ventura in “Predator” when Arnold goes and picks up the truck and Jessie says, “What the fuck?” I was kind of shocked that the word still has not got out that carbohydrate drinks by themselves without some added amino acids is really settling for less in our quest for muscle growth.


Why the hell are lifters drinking Power-Aid?

Carb Drinks Do Not Increase Resistance Exercise Performance

Surely, the word hasten out that consuming a carbohydrate beverage alone is not going to do anything for increasing protein synthesis and creating an anabolic drive for muscle hypertrophy.  Sure, all those Gatorade and Power-Aid commercials look cool with the neo colors coming out of their pores, but its not going to do a hell of a lot for you in the gym.  Won’t drinking a carbohydrate drink increase your maximal strength and reduce fatigue in the gym?

Researchers studied whether drinking a carbohydrate drink may reduce perceptional effort in the gym.  Thirty strength-trained subjects were randomized to a carbohydrate group (C) or a placebo group (P), and lifted weights for 2 hours (4 sets; 10 repetitions maximum; 10 exercises; 2-3-minute rest intervals). Subjects ingested 10 ml/ kg/hour of 6% carbohydrate or placebo beverages during the resistance-training bout. The 15-category Borg Perceived Exertion Scale was used to assess overall body exertion after completion of the last repetition in each set for each exercise. Carbohydrate supplementation exerted no attenuating effect on ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) during resistance training (19). Basically, it means the group drinking carbohydrate beverages didn’t find the workouts any easier than the group drinking water.

But drinking some extra carbs should help improve performance with regards to high intensity repetitive sessions in the gym right?  According to a new 2006 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, it does not matter whether you consume a high or low carb diet; it’s not going to do a lot for performance in the gym.  In that study, multiple sets of jump squats were performed by men consuming either a high-CHO (6.5 g CHO kg body mass) diet compared to a moderate-CHO (4.4 g CHO kg body mass) diet. The resistance exercise test consisted of 4 sets of 12 repetitions of maximal-effort jump squats using a Plyometric Power System unit and a load of 30% of 1 repetition maximum (1RM). A 2-minute rest period was used between sets. The results indicated that the power output during multiple sets of maximal jump squats was not enhanced following a higher-CHO diet compared to a moderate- or lower-CHO diet. These data show that elevated carbohydrate intake is not needed to optimize a repetitive power-performance (17).

Some studies suggest that drinking a carbohydrate beverage during exercise may help reduce cortisol and reduce oxidative stress, but not all studies have reported this. McAnulty et al.18  had thirty strength-trained subjects consume either a carbohydrate (CHO) beverage or placebo (PLA) groups that lifted weights for 2 h. Subjects received 10 ml kg per hr. CHO (6%) or PLA beverages during the exercise. Blood and vastus lateralis muscle biopsy samples were collected before and after exercise and analyzed for cortisol as a marker of general stress, F(2)-isoprostanes as a measure of oxidative stress. Interestingly, the study found that decreases in muscle glycogen content did not differ between CHO and PLA. Cortisol increased significantly in CHO and PLA, but the pattern of change was not different between groups. F(2)-isoprostanes were unaffected by exercise. These results indicate that exhaustive resistance exercise and carbohydrate ingestion have no effect on oxidative stress and cortisol in trained resistance trained subjects.



Carbohydrate drinks are great for dumping on your coach head…not much good for resistance training.

Do carbohydrate drinks help out with anything?  Carbohydrates supplements do reduce muscle protein breakdown but have no effect on muscle protein synthesis (1, 2).  In fact, even though carbohydrate ingestion alone reduced muscle tissue breakdown, the net balance protein kinetics still remains negative (15). Going to the gym and drinking a carbohydrate beverage is not supporting optimal anabolic activity for muscle growth. In a way, its does have some effect, but why half-ass it…why fill up on carbs and extra calories?  Additionally, carbohydrate ingestion during exercise results in a decrease in the expression of genes involved in fatty acid transport and oxidation (carnitine palmitoyltransferase-1, uncoupling protein 3) (6).



Although the bottles look cool… carbohydrate ingestion during exercise results in a decrease in the expression of genes involved in fatty acid transport and oxidation (carnitine palmitoyltransferase-1, uncoupling protein 3) and has no effect on increasing protein synthesis.


Carbs and Amino Acids Before and After Exercise-the Winning Combination

Don’t get me wrong, the purpose of this article is not to crap all over carbs, but carbs alone does not support optimal anabolic growth. A study published in the American Journal of Physiology and Endocrinology Metabolism was conducted to determine if a carbohydrate drink with added amino acids improved a the muscle’s response to resistance training. Subjects drank either a pre- or post-workout supplement that provided 35 grams of sucrose (carbohydrate) and 6 grams of essential amino acid. The researchers found that the response to drinking the carbohydrate-protein drink immediately before exercise was greater than the response to drinking the same drink immediately after the workout. The drink resulted in a change from a catabolic (breakdown) state to a building state due to an increase in protein synthesis (20).

Although this is just one study, another recent study reported similar results, showing that protein consumption prior to after strength training was important. Hardcore lifters should know by now that post-exercise beverages should have both carbohydrates and protein for an optimal rise in insulin and anabolic response. A recent study reported that post-exercise with a whey protein/carbohydrate beverage with some added leucine resulted in a ~250 % greater insulin response compared with a carbohydrate alone beverage (11). For years, everyone talked about the “45 minute” window of opportunity where after exercise a tiny worm-hole slowly begins to close after exercise, many bodybodybuilders would be pushing old ladies in walkers out of the way trying to make it home and slam down a protein drink.

There is a certain amount of bullshit to this 45-minute window of opportunity theory in that protein synthesis rates do not just shut down after 45 minutes, in fact exercise protein synthesis have been documented to be increased for up to 48 hours following an intense resistance exercise program8, however there is some truth to getting a post-exercise supplement immediately after exercise. Studies have reported that a delay in protein consumption after exercise may delay protein synthesis rates. For example, after intense leg exercise subjects were fed an oral nutrient supplement (10 g protein, 8 g carbohydrate, and 3 g fat) which was administered either immediately after exercise or 3 hours after exercise. Researchers found that the net uptake of amino acids and glucose immediately after exercise led to more substrate and energy availability within the leg for protein synthesis. Although leg protein breakdown was not significantly different between the two treatments, leg protein synthesis was increased more than threefold when they consumed a protein supplement immediately after exercise vs. 3 hours later. Hence, there was a net increase in leg protein when nutrients were ingested immediately after exercise, which was in contrast to the net loss of leg protein when nutrients were given 3 h after exercise (9).

For an even greater effect on increasing protein synthesis rates, researchers have discovered that using an amino acid/carbohydrate beverage before exercise may lead to a greater protein synthesis than taken immediately after exercise (10). It seems that in order to receive the optimal effects of protein supplements the “window of opportunity” theory should be changed to consuming protein supplements or amino acid supplements before and after exercise for optimal anabolic gains.

Pre/Post Supplementation…More Important than any other Time!!

A recent study is this month’s Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise reported that supplement intake before and after exercise may be just about the best time to take your protein supplement. The purpose the study was to examine the effects of supplement timing (pre and post exercise compared to supplement at breakfast and before bedtime) compared with supplementation in the hours not close to the workout on muscle-fiber hypertrophy, strength, and body composition during a 10-wk RE program. In this randomized protocol, resistance-trained males were matched for strength and placed into one of two groups; the PRE-POST group consumed a supplement (1 g per kg of body weight) containing protein/creatine/glucose immediately before and after resistance exercise while the other group consumed the same dose of the same supplement in the morning and late evening. Results of the study concluded that the PRE-POST demonstrated a greater increase in lean body mass and 1RM strength in two of three assessments of strength. Compared to the group that took the protein/carb supplement at breakfast and before bed, the PRE-POST changes in body composition were supported by a greater increase in cross sectional area of the type II fibers and contractile protein content. Supplement timing before and after resistance exercise represents a simple but effective strategy for increasing muscle hypertrophy.

Increased Amino Acid Delivery

Recent research has documented that muscle protein synthesis can be exacerbated by protein or amino acid intake immediately before and after resistance exercise (3, 4). Researchers speculate that if you take an amino acid or protein based supplement before exercise, there is an increase in blood flow to muscle in conjunction with the amino acids that primes the anabolic response. Previous research has shown that a mixture of 6 g of EAAs + 35g glucose given immediately before exercise resulted in a greater stimulation of net protein synthesis than when it was given either immediately or after 1 hour after exercise14. So why is it so important to get amino acids into your system after exercise? One reason is that heavy intense exercise stimulates cortisol production, which results in increases in muscle protein breakdown. Researchers wanted to know what happened when you infuse subjects with cortisol and the effects essential amino acids had on cortisol. Administration of essential amino acids not only increased protein synthesis after cortisol infusions but acutely reversed the effects of cortisol7.


The latest Research on Protein Ingestion Pre and Post-Exercise

In this month’s journal of Amino Acids, researchers reported that after 10 weeks of heavy resistance exercise ingestion of whey and casein protein and free amino acids before and after resistance exercise was more effective than using an isocaloric carbohydrate beverage in improving muscle strength and muscle mass, in addition to markers of muscle anabolism (5).  In the study, nineteen males were randomly assigned to supplement groups containing either 20 g protein (14 g whey and casein protein, 6 g free amino acids) or 20 g dextrose placebo ingested 1 h before and after exercise for a total of 40 g/d. Participants exercised 4 times/wk using 3 sets of 6-8 repetitions at 85-90% of the one repetition maximum. It should be of no surprise, but the protein supplement group resulted in greater increases in total body mass, fat-free mass, thigh mass, muscle strength, serum IGF-1, IGF-1 mRNA, MHC I and IIa expression, and myofibrillar protein.  Interestingly, in the study the carbohydrate alone beverage did lead to a greater insulin response, but the researchers speculated that the 6g of leucine may have led to greater increases in mTOR pathway.

Leucine Increases mTOR

The BCAA leucine plays multiple roles in metabolism beyond the minimum requirement as an essential substrate for synthesis of new proteins.  Leucine has multiple roles on increasing anabolic drive by: increasing protein synthesis, insulin signaling, and production of alanine and glutamine is dependent on dietary intake.  In terms of anabolic activity, L-Leucine could be called the “Highlander Amino Acid: There Can Be Only One!”  Leucine stimulates protein synthesis rates greater than any other amino acid.  Additionally, a recent study reported that addition of leucine to a protein based supplement led to a greater protein synthesis than intake of protein supplement alone after a resistance exercise program (11). It’s interesting in that leucine has been shown to stimulate protein synthesis by an insulin independent mechanism (19).

It has now been established that leucine, stimulates protein synthesis through signaling pathways that involve mTOR.   What the hell is mTOR?  mTOR stands for the Mammalian Target ORapamycin. mTOR is a master regulator of muscle growth (cell size and division) by sensing amino acid availability and cellular energy level.  mTOR itself is though to serve as an ATP-sensor.  mTOR appears to have important effects on stimulating a variety of growth signals, resulting in protein synthesis rates.  Resistance exercise, amino acids, or a combination of both are all known regulators of mTOR.  When BCAA’s are administered to subjects during and after one session of leg extensions, an increase in mTOR was found in recovery period (12).  The exact mechanism in which mTOR regulates muscle hypertrophy is unknown.  Interestingly, IGF-I dependent muscle hypertrophy is dependent on mTOR pathway.  Studies have reported that if mTOR is inhibited by drugs, neither insulin, amino acids, or resistance exercise will cause increases in proteins synthesis rates (13).  Overall, the available evidence strongly suggests that mTOR plays a crucial role in controlling muscle cell growth.



SyntheSize beta is the perfect pre/post workout drink with added L-Leucine which increases mTOR


Amino acids are well known to stimulate insulin, growth hormone, and IGF-I and may even enhance testosterone production. In the journal of Metabolism, the anabolic effects of essential amino acids were documented as they prevented strength loss during an intense overreaching program. In that study, seventeen resistance-trained men were randomly assigned to either an essential amino acid group or placebo group before embarking on a five-week training program designed to overtrain them. Each participant ingested the amino acid supplement separate from meals (i.e. 1 hour before a meal and 2 hours after a meal). In relation to the exercise bout, supplement doses were taken 1 to 2 hours pre- and post exercise. Thus, the sequence was a morning dose, afternoon dose before workout, afternoon dose after workout, and evening dose. After one week of overreaching, 1RM on the bench press had decreased in the placebo group, but not the essential amino acid group. Both groups then showed similar increases in strength in week’s three to five, but [b]total testosterone levels were higher in the amino acid group during most of the study[/b](3). The study indicates amino acid supplementation is effective in preventing the initial strength loss seen when first starting a high-volume program, probably by creating an anabolic environment and reducing muscle damage.

Carbohydrates are needed in conjunction with protein/amino acids to get the optimal anabolic effect. Throw away those damn Carbo-Force bottles and replace them with a protein/carbohydrate mixture. Recent studies have demonstrated that nutritional mixtures containing protein, added leucine, and high-glycemic carbohydrates strongly augments insulin secretion compared with the high-glycemic carbohydrates only trial. When post-exercise hyperinsulinemia is supported by protein and leucine ingestion-induced hyperaminoacidemia, an enhanced anabolic drive occurs. Thus, post-exercise recovery drinks containing these nutrients may lead to increased skeletal muscle hypertrophy.


1. Roy BD, Tarnopolsky MA, MacDougall JD, Fowles J, Yarasheski KE. Effect of glucose supplement timing on protein metabolism after resistance training. J Appl Physiol. 1997 Jun;82(6):1882-8.

2. Roy BD, Fowles JR, Hill R, Tarnopolsky MA. Macronutrient intake and whole body protein metabolism following resistance exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000 Aug;32(8):1412-8.

3. Borsheim E, Aarsland A, Wolfe RR. Effect of an amino acid, protein, and carbohydrate mixture on net muscle protein balance after resistance exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Jun;14(3):255-71.

4. Carroll CC, Fluckey JD, Williams RH, Sullivan DH, Trappe TA. Human soleus and vastus lateralis muscle protein metabolism with an amino acid infusion. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2005 Mar;288(3):E479-85.

5. Willoughby DS, Stout JR, Wilborn CD. Effects of resistance training and protein plus amino acid supplementation on muscle anabolism, mass, and strength. Amino Acids. 2006.

6. Civitarese AE, Hesselink MK, Russell AP, Ravussin E, Schrauwen P. Glucose ingestion during exercise blunts exercise-induced gene expression of skeletal muscle fat oxidative genes. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2005 Dec;289(6):E1023-9.

7. Paddon-Jones D, Sheffield-Moore M, Creson DL, Sanford AP, Wolf SE, Wolfe RR, Ferrando AA. Hypercortisolemia alters muscle protein anabolism following ingestion of essential amino acids. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2003 May;284(5):E946-53. Epub 2003 Feb 4.

8. Wolfe RR. Skeletal muscle protein metabolism and resistance exercise. J Nutr. 2006 Feb;136(2):525S-528S.

9. Levenhagen DK, Gresham JD, Carlson MG, Maron DJ, Borel MJ, Flakoll PJ. Postexercise nutrient intake timing in humans is critical to recovery of leg glucose and protein homeostasis. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Jun;280(6):E982-93.

10. Tipton KD, Rasmussen BB, Miller SL, Wolf SE, Owens-Stovall SK, Petrini BE, Wolfe RR. Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Aug;281(2):E197-206.

11. Koopman R, Wagenmakers AJ, Manders RJ, Zorenc AH, Senden JM, Gorselink M, Keizer HA, van Loon LJ. Combined ingestion of protein and free leucine with carbohydrate increases postexercise muscle protein synthesis in vivo in male subjects. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2005 Apr;288(4):E645-53.

12. Blomstrand E, Eliasson J, Karlsson HK, Kohnke R. Branched-chain amino acids activate key enzymes in protein synthesis after physical exercise. J Nutr. 2006 Jan;136(1 Suppl):269S-73S.

13. Bolster DR, Jefferson LS, Kimball SR. Regulation of protein synthesis associated with skeletal muscle hypertrophy by insulin-, amino acid- and exercise-induced signalling. Proc Nutr Soc. 2004 May;63(2):351-6. Review.

14. Borsheim E, Tipton KD, Wolf SE, Wolfe RR. Essential amino acids and muscle protein recovery from resistance exercise.Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2002 Oct;283(4):E648-57.

15. Borsheim E, Cree MG, Tipton KD, Elliott TA, Aarsland A, Wolfe RR. Effect of carbohydrate intake on net muscle protein synthesis during recovery from resistance exercise. J Appl Physiol. 2004 Feb;96(2):674-8.

16. Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA, Volek JS, Hakkinen K, Rubin MR, French DN, Gomez AL, McGuigan MR, Scheett TP, Newton RU, Spiering BA, Izquierdo M, Dioguardi FS. The effects of amino acid supplementation on hormonal responses to resistance training overreaching. Metabolism. 2006 Mar;55(3):282-91.

17. Hatfield DL, Kraemer WJ, Volek JS, Rubin MR, Grebien B, Gomez AL, French DN, Scheett TP, Ratamess NA, Sharman MJ, McGuigan MR, Newton RU, Hakkinen K. The effects of carbohydrate loading on repetitive jump squat power performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2006 Feb;20(1):167-71.

18. Utter AC, Kang J, Nieman DC, Brown VA, Dumke CL, McAnulty SR, McAnulty LS. Carbohydrate supplementation and perceived exertion during resistance exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2005 Nov;19(4):939-43.

19. Anthony JC, Anthony TG, Layman DK. Leucine supplementation enhances skeletal muscle recovery in rats following exercise. J Nutr. 1999 Jun;129(6):1102-6.

20. Tipton, K. D., Rasmussen, B. B., Miller, S. L., Wolf, S. E., Owens-Stovall, S. K., Petrini, B. E., et al. (2001). Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab, 281(2), E197-206.

PCT + AI Stack + 2 items
someone from Concord
Total order for 54.45 USD
someone from Waco
Total order for 89.45 USD
Rad Bod Stack + 5 items
someone from Killeen
Total order for 134.90 USD
someone from Lees Summit
Total order for 64.49 USD
Liquid Labs T2
someone from Elnhurst
Total order for 72.97 USD