Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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Protein helps muscles grow faster up to 24 hours after strength training

Strength athletes' muscle growth is not only boosted by consuming extra proteins before, during and just after a training session. For up to 24 hours after a workout in the gym, muscles react positively to protein intake. At least, young men's muscles do.

Researchers at McMaster University in Canada came to this conclusion after doing experiments on 15 students whose average age was 21. The students were familiar with weight training. For the study they did lab sessions consisting of 4 sets of leg-extensions. Each time the men trained only 1 leg.

On one occasion the men trained their one leg with sets using 90 percent of their 1RM, and trained to failure. [90FAIL]

On another occasion the men did sets with 30 percent of their 1RM and did the number reps required to match the amount of effort they had expended during the 90FAIL session. [30WM]

On yet another occasion the men did sets with 30 percent of their 1RM, but then trained to failure. [30FAIL]

Before each training session the subjects were given a liquid breakfast in the lab that contained 520 calories. The drink consisted of 61 percent energy derived from carbohydrates, 15 percent from protein and 24 percent from fat. This meant they consumed 20 g protein, of which 15 g consisted of whey. [Ahem. Not optimal, but never mind…] The product used was Ensure Plus, from Abbot Laboratories.

Exactly 24 hours after the training session the subjects returned to the lab and were given another liquid meal. After this the researchers then measured how much the meal boosted the synthesis of muscle fibres in comparison with the trained men who had not been given a meal. The researchers also measured the synthesis of sarcoplasmic muscle protein and that of all muscle proteins together, but found no – or no significant – effect.

FED = effect of fluid meal in untrained leg; EXFED = effect of fluid meal plus training.

The figure above shows that 24 hours after the to-failure training the uptake of protein signalling molecules such as AKT, mTOR and 4E-BP1 was still raised. That means that the muscle cells' anabolic machinery was working harder.

To-failure training with 90 percent of 1RM stimulates the anabolism in a different way from how to-failure training with 30 percent of 1RM does this. Which suggests that training with heavy weights and training with less heavy weights complement each other.

The take-home message for strength athletes is clear. Protein manufacturers will like this study.

J Nutr. 2011 Apr 1; 141(4): 568-73.

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