The 30-minute window for aminos
Is it an actual thing? And how can you maximise your anabolic potential?
WORDS JON DAVIE
If you jump on Google and search maximising anabolic potential you’re going to get a shitload of false information. The information is hyped up and often posted by websites that sell supplements (usually amino acids) which claim to increase anabolic potential and get you stacking on a bunch of muscle. They’re trying to make a few bucks from you so of course they’re going to give to exciting information and all the promises in the world. Realistically put, the science behind anabolic potential isn’t exciting but it’s worth knowing about if you’re trying to gain lean muscle. It’s probably not the answer you want to hear so if you’re looking for a shortcut that will boost your ego and make you feel like you’re about to become a muscle monster, this isn’t it. But if you’re keen to get a little educated (unlike most these days), read on.
The crap I have heard some guys speak about amino acids is laughable at times. Some say you have to take your aminos within 30 minutes after training and if you don’t you’re doomed and may as well give up lifting altogether because you just lost all your gains. I’ve heard another guy say that you should never take aminos before training because your body will turn into muscle-burning mode and you will actually be smaller after you finish your session. Broscientists at their best!
There is no rule about needing to take or not taking amino acids 30 minutes before or after training. So just forget that shit entirely. Let’s look at a study by some people who have actually researched into amino acids (and have a degree).
One study1 investigated whether the combination of amino acids and carbohydrates before training was more effective in stimulating muscle protein synthesis (muscle building) than consuming the mix after training. The study got the participants to complete a lower body weight training session: 10 sets x 8 reps of leg press @ 80% 1RM. The supplement consisted of 6g of essential amino acids and 35g or carbs.
The result? The researchers found the amino carb mix was more effective at stimulating protein synthesis when consumed prior to exercise.
The researchers stated, “Consuming a source of amino acids before exercise increases amino acid availability. Providing amino acids at a time when blood flow is elevated, such as during the exercise bout, maximises delivery to the muscle.”
They also found that consuming amino acids after exercise had a positive effect on protein synthesis too. They didn’t look at the effects of consuming them pre- and post-workout so it would be interesting to see a study on that.
Given the benefits of both occasions though, it could be worth consuming aminos at both times.
If you didn’t know already, many hormones with anabolic potential are naturally found within the body. They’re not only found on dodgy supplement sites. These include testosterone, insulin and growth hormone (all of which you can also get online or from your local ‘fitness coach’). Many athletes seek outside sources (like local ‘coaches’) to get these hormones to increase their strength, muscle mass and performance. But you can actually increase all of them naturally to some degree, so probably best to try that first before pumping your body with the unnatural stuff – but that’s just my advice, you can do what you like with your own body though.
One way you can manipulate your body’s hormonal response is through calorie intake. If you’re a hard gainer and finding it tough to put size on, this could be particularly good information for you.
A study2 monitored the anabolic hormones in response to increases in calorie intake. During the first seven days the participants consumed enough calories to maintain their body mass. They were given another 700 calories for two days, followed by an additional 1200-1600 calories a day for the following 19 days. They lived at the institute for the 28 days too so this was all heavily monitored.
That’s some serious calorie consumption. The excess calories consumed over the study ranged from 18,900 to 35,400. There was a 1.86kg gain in lean muscle mass during the period. There were also increases in insulin-like growth factor, testosterone and insulin. There was a 32% increase in testosterone as well.
Basically the study shows that many naturally occurring anabolic hormones can be influenced by dietary intake. That’s why consuming enough calories while you are trying to gain muscle is so important. It legitimately increases your anabolic potential and can be the difference between making and breaking your training.
Hard gainers often struggle to gain not because they don’t rain hard enough but because they don’t eat hard enough. Calorie intake needs to be high enough to promote an anabolic environment.
The participants in the study weren’t even training (only a leisurely stroll around the institute gardens) and they gained 1.86kg of lean muscle. Of course, they gained fat too but that’s a given. Combine a high-calorie intake with a structured weight training program and you can direct more of the excess calories towards lean muscle mass.
Many struggle to physically consume the necessary calories to make any real difference. To this I say just toughen up and eat! Or you use weight gainer supplements that are large servings of carbs and protein. These can help you get more calories in as it’s often easier to drink an additional 500-1000 calories than to eat them.
So, broscience out, real science shows aminos are beneficial both pre- and post-training, and consuming them inside or outside of these times won’t cause your muscle to eat themselves or your gains to disappear entirely. Also, you can increase anabolic hormone concentrations naturally without the help of your fitness coach’s ‘supplements’ for success, or you can get on that shit if you want, your choice at the end of the day.
1Forbes, G et al. (1989). Hormonal Response of Overfeeding. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 49 – 608-611.
2Tipton, K. et al. 2001. Timing of Amino Acid-Carbohydrate Ingestion Alters Anabolic Response of Muscle to Resistance Exercise.