Most gym users quickly get the idea that they need protein to build muscle. Typically more protein than we are used to consuming. But if you want to get the most out of your gym time, maximize gains and minimize pains then there’s a little more you need to know.

Yes, Protein Is Important

Firstly, yes, protein is most definitely important. The amount that is beneficial varies dramatically however depending on a number of factors. Our body weight, age, degree of fitness and level of activity all make a difference. Which makes sense of course – a cardio heavy day is going to hit your body very differently to a serious session with free weights.

The recommended daily amount (RDA) of protein is usually quoted as 0.8g of protein per kg of bodyweight. But for athletes studies have recommended this should be increased dramatically. The International Society of Sport Nutrition recommends between 1.4g to 2g per kg of weight for people undertaking exercise. This is of course a pretty broad range, and something a nutrition coach can help you pin down for your own body and exercise goals.

‘Evil’ Carbs DO Matter

With the advent of low carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins or Paleo diets, we’re becoming trained to see carbs purely as a ‘bad thing’.

This is however far from true. You need carbs, and especially shortly after a gym workout – ideally within 30 minutes. This is to restore your levels of glycogen, boost your energy levels (ever felt really sleepy after a workout?) and to get your insulin levels up too. As little as 0.8g per kg of body weight of carbs along with your post-workout protein can be enough to kick start the repair process.

Keep Muscle Ache At Bay

Getting some good quality protein within a couple of hours of a workout will help reduce post-workout pain, partly from the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) it provides. But add in a good source of Omega-3 too and you won’t be waking up in pain the day after a grueling gym session. Because not only has Omega-3 been shown to increase protein synthesis, it can also help reduce inflammation.

Most of us think of Omega-3 as just being something that helps protect your heart. But it’s actually been identified as valuable for everything from brain health to supporting your joints (an important consideration if you’re working your body hard with heavy weights). Having good levels of Omega-3 can also improve your body’s fat burning abilities whilst actually exercising. Getting enough Omega-3 (and in particular DHA from that Omega-3) from diet alone is pretty tough though so you may want to consider a quality supplement.

Aaargh, Cramp!

If you ever suffer muscle cramps after workouts you may be depleting your potassium reserves. If you sweat heavily or are dehydrated to start with you are more likely to be affected.

Very different to muscle ache, cramps are when your muscles unexpectedly contract strongly, which can be very painful. Carefully stretching the muscle out provides relief, but ensuring you get enough potassium may see the problem subside altogether. Many foods contain at least some potassium but good sources are bananas, avocados, tomatoes and meat sources.

Not Another Cold

Going to the gym should be a fun, positive experience that really makes you feel good. Exercise does boost those happy endorphins in your brain so it’s hard to walk out of a gym not feeling good. But if you’re not careful with what you eat, working your body hard can leave your immune system weakened.

If you find you’re catching more colds than usual you may want to consider boosting your levels of zinc and vitamins A, C and E. Not only can these help boost up your immune system, they are also antioxidants which can help the body deal with post-workout ‘free radical’ damage. A handful of blueberries are packed with antioxidants, and taste pretty great too.

Hopefully you now feel a little more prepared for your next gym session. Start working some of these tips into your workout routine and you should start to see better results with less aches and pains.

About The Author

Pierce Holmford is a bit of a health nut. You can often find him at his website OmegaThreeBenefits.com where he attempts to translate confusing scientific studies and turn them into something even he can understand.

References

Beelen, Milou, et al. “Nutritional strategies to promote postexercise recovery.” Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 20.6 (2010): 515-32.

Tartibian, Bakhtiar, Behzad Hajizadeh Maleki, and Asghar Abbasi. “The effects of ingestion of omega-3 fatty acids on perceived pain and external symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness in untrained men.” Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 19.2 (2009): 115-119.

Smith, Gordon I., et al. “Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids augment the muscle protein anabolic response to hyperinsulinaemia–hyperaminoacidaemia in healthy young and middle-aged men and women.” Clinical science 121.6 (2011): 267-278.

Noreen, Eric E., et al. “Effects of supplemental fish oil on resting metabolic rate, body composition, and salivary cortisol in healthy adults.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 7.1 (2010): 1-7.