Advanced nutrition strategies for speeding recovery and aiding muscle growth

In brief

  • Nutrient timing refers to the concept that the timing and content of feeding in-and-around training sessions has a dramatic effect on improvements in muscle mass, body composition and performance
  • A new vista in sports nutrition - not just what is eaten, but when it is eaten
  • Overwhelming evidence now supports the specific and the strategic use of liquid formulations to provide carbohydrate and protein in precise amounts to support recovery and training adaptations.


Many of the metabolic responses to exercise and training reflect a balance between breakdown (catabolism) and growth/synthesis (anabolism). For instance, the fuel stores in muscle for exercise (mostly in the form of carbohydrate molecules known as glycogen) are, at any given point in time, determined by the breakdown/use during exercise and the recovery/synthesis as a result of a high carbohydrate (CHO) diet or carefully-planned recovery meals. Similarly, the growth of muscle in response to training is now accepted as being determined by an individual’s ability to optimise training and nutrition strategies so that the processes affecting the growth of muscle (known as muscle protein synthesis) exceed the processes causing breakdown of muscle (known as muscle protein degradation) over a prolonged period of time. In recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that carefully choosing when and what is eaten in-and-around training sessions and competition can have a dramatic effect on the metabolic response to that session, recovery from that session and, perhaps most importantly, determine the nature of adaptation to training in terms of body composition.

These observations have led to the concept of “Nutrient Timing” in sports nutrition1. In short, nutrient timing adds another layer of complexity to sports nutrition advice as it is concerned not just with WHAT is eaten, but WHEN it is eaten. The concept is that specifically and strategically manipulating nutrient intakes pre-, during, and post-exercise can optimise the processes of muscle growth, fat burning/body composition and recovery of fuel stores.

The post-exercise ‘window of opportunity’

One of the key factors that explains why nutrient timing can be more effective for bringing about these adaptive changes (compared to nutrition strategies that only rely on addressing overall daily intakes) is a phenomenon known as the post-exercise ‘window of opportunity’. This is a short period of time (0-4 hours) after exercise where anabolic (growth) processes in the body are maximised. This means that the muscles that have worked hard during your training or competition are primed to take-up nutrients and (i) store them for future exercise (i.e. muscle glycogen), or (ii) create new muscle proteins that repair damaged muscle and help to grow muscle. For instance, the rate at which muscle can recover its fuel stores by converting carbohydrate-containing foods into muscle glycogen, or can increase muscle growth processes is markedly reduced if the consumption of a recovery meal is delayed by 2-3 hours2, 3, 4, 5.

The implication here, and the key point about nutrient timing, is that by providing the body with nutrients as soon as possible after exercise, recovery and activation of a variety of processes are optimised (Fig. 1). In fact, beginning that recovery process by drinking a shake either immediately before and/or during your session may provide an added benefit for muscle growth processes3, 6.

Composition of recovery meal and formulations in nutrient timing

Many  studies have looked at the composition of the post-exercise recovery meal and  its effects on recovery from exercise. To review all these is beyond the scope  of this article. In short, in almost all cases, the optimal recovery nutrition  strategy is one that combines both a source of carbohydrate and a source of  protein, while limiting fat intake. Current studies focus on optimising the  ratio between these macronutrients, and the consensus at present based on the  most recent International Society of Sports Nutrition and the American College  of Sports Medicine position stands7, 8 is that a ratio of CHO-to-protein  of 3:1 and 4 or 5:1 are optimal for recovery of CHO stores and muscle protein synthesis,  respectively.

The reason such combinations are so effective  is that the CHO provides a source of glucose (sugar) in the blood for the  recovery of fuel stores, whereas the protein provides a source of amino acids  (building blocks of proteins) for the same. The synergistic effect comes from  the fact that glucose and amino acids together can stimulate the production of  insulin, which in turn acts as a very powerful anabolic hormone to stimulate  muscle recovery and growth. The combination of sources of high glycemic index CHO or sugar and  fast-digesting protein or amino acids is seen as critical to the ‘perfect’  recovery drink9.

Several studies support the  notion that the composition of the recovery meal is critical for adaptation. In  a study of almost 400 male US Marine recruits supplemented immediately after exercise  each day during the 54 day basic training phase, those receiving a CHO-protein  supplement had less muscle soreness and joint problems, fewer infections and  medical visits, and less instances of heat exhaustion compared to groups who  consumed either a placebo or CHO only supplement10. In men performing 14 weeks of  resistance training combined with either 25 g of protein or CHO before and  immediately after each training bout, only the protein group showed improvement  sin muscle size (15-25%) and performance (vertical jump) in response to  training11. These results were replicated  in another 10 week training study of almost identical design, and although in  this study the CHO group did increase muscle mass and strength, the changes  were greater in the protein group12. Finally, another resistance  training study (12 weeks) compared the effect of consuming either placebo, 38 g  of CHO, 6 g of essential amino acids (EAAs), or a combined CHO (38 g) and EAA  (6 g) supplement as a drink during exercise. Although all groups reduced their fat mass by a similar amounts, the  CHO+EAA group increased lean body mass (i.e. muscle) to a greater extent than  any of the other three groups, whereas either CHO or EAA alone was better than  placebo in that context13.  This effect was explained by the greater  ability of the CHO+EAA supplement to prevent muscle protein breakdown during  recovery.

Another key finding in terms of  nutrient composition is that a specific subset of amino acids known as the  branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), and specifically the BCAA leucine are  largely responsible for the effects of protein on stimulating muscle growth  processes during recovery14, 15. These amino acids are covered  in more detail in our amino acid article, but it is worth noting that even  as little as 6 g of BCAAs can be a potent stimulus to muscle growth during  recovery14.

Role of nutrient timing in adaptation and recovery - evidence from literature

For  recovery of muscle fuel stores, a seminal paper described the effect of  delaying the post-exercise recovery meal by 2 hours as resulting in a rate of  glycogen synthesis during the two hours after each meal that was 45% lower than  consuming the meal immediately after exercise4. In addition, when muscle  glycogen was measured 4 hours into recovery, the overall levels were 35%  greater in the immediate recovery meal compared to the delayed recovery meal.  However, a similar paper that extended these findings to measurements at 8 and  24 hours of recovery found no difference in recovery of fuel stores when  feeding was delayed by 2 hours16. In short, for athletes  performing intense two-a-day work-outs or in competition where several events  take place in one day, timing of the recovery meal so as to avoid delays is  extremely important.

The adverse effect of delaying  post-exercise feeding has also been shown for muscle growth processes. For instance,  having a recovery meal immediately after exercise resulted in three times  greater muscle protein synthesis during recovery compared to delaying feeding  by 3 hours2. As stated above, drinking a CHO-amino  acid combination immediately before and during exercise may add even more  benefits in terms of kick-starting muscle growth processes3.

However, these two studies  focussed on the recovery processes from exercise in a very short time-period, and only in response to one exercise  session – the question must be asked whether these observations on processes of  recovery ultimately result in genuine increases in muscle mass or improvements  in training adaptation. The short answer is that they do…

An early rodent study where rats  were either fed a meal either right after or 4 hours after each resistance exercise  session reported that muscle mass was higher (6%) and fat mass was lower (24%)  in those fed immediately after 10 weeks of training17. A couple of years later, this  principle was first shown in humans, where elderly men undertaking a  12 week resistance training programme consumed  a 10 g protein, 7 g CHO, 3 g fat supplement either immediately after or 2 h  after each training session. The quad muscle size increased only in the  immediately fed group, and gains in leg strength were about 25% greater than  the delayed feeding group18. Finally, a 10 week resistance  training intervention was performed on two groups of young men whose diets were  matched and who consumed an identical CHO-protein-creatine supplement. The  difference between the two groups was the timing of consumption: one group took  the supplement immediately pre- and post-training, whereas the other group took  the supplement at times in the morning and evening away from training. After 10  weeks of training, although both groups improved their strength and increased  muscle mass, increases in strength and muscle mass as well as decreases in body  fat were greater in the pre/post-timed supplement group6.

In summary, studies on nutrient  timing suggest that maximising adaptation to training may lie in the ability to  maximise the anabolic (growth and recovery) environment in the post-exercise  period. This can be achieved by the appropriate content (a mix of CHO and  protein) and timing (immediately before, during and after training). It is possible  that gains in strength and some change in muscle mass can still be achieved,  but these changes are likely to be smaller in magnitude than those achievable with  appropriate nutrient timing strategies1.

Nutrient timing in practice with ROS Nutrition products

While undoubtedly it is possible to obtain CHO-protein combinations  using whole foods and meals, given the specificity for meal content and timing  for pre, during and post-workout fueling and recovery in the context of  nutrient timing, it is advisable to achieve these goals by utilising liquid  meal formulations. These offer the advantages of being palatable, have fast  digestion and absorption profiles (much faster than whole foods thereby taking  advantage of the ‘window of opportunity’), and can incorporate other active  ingredients such as leucine, caffeine and creatine among others. At ROS  Nutrition, we have applied the latest nutrition guidelines and scientific  studies combined with a goal-orientated formulation development process, and  our expertise in taste and texture optimisation to offer market-leading  nutrient timing and recovery products. Our flagship recovery products are RECOVERACE  STRENGTH®  and RECOVERACE  ENDURANCE® - both of which can be used for consumption immediately before and  during training as well as into recovery, consistent with the nutrient timing  principles discussed above.


RECOVERACE STRENGTH® is a CHO-protein  recovery drink designed to be more attuned to the recovery from resistance  training and gaining lean muscle mass as opposed to endurance training and  recovery of muscle CHO stores of its sister product RECOVERACE ENDURANCE®.  RECOVERACE STRENGTH® features an optimal blend of CHO, protein and amino acids  to maximise rates of muscle protein synthesis (essential for muscle growth) in  order to enhance recovery and promote gains from training. With isomaltulose as  the major source of CHO, we provide a recovery product that provides a source  of CHO for recovery, but of a low GI that in turn allows for greater rates of  fat burning during recovery than other recovery products. This is of particular  interest to those individuals looking to maintain low percentage body fat, or  in weight category sports where optimizing body composition is a major goal.


RECOVERACE ENDURANCE® is a CHO-protein  recovery drink as an optimal blend designed to promote rapid rates of glycogen  and protein synthesis to enhance recovery and promote gains from training and  competition. Using Vitargo® as the major source of CHO, the 5:1 CHO-to-protein  blend is optimal for rapid recovery of fuel stores after exertion.

Apart  from our off-the-shelf recovery formulations, athletes may wish to consider  making their own bespoke liquid supplement. To this end, we offer a range of  protein, amino acid and CHO powder options.

If your goal involves high  intakes of BCAAs, a variety of ROS formulations based on these protein powders  provide BCAAs in ample amounts such as AlphaMass®, Metamuscle®, Whey  TRU®, Casein TRU®,  PRO-GSH Whey®, FEMME MEAL®, FEMME  SHAPE® RecoverAce Strength® and RecoverAce Endurance®. Plant-protein powders such as  hemp, rice and pea protein contain slightly lower concentrations of BCAAs, but  have the disadvantage of not providing all EAAs required by the body.

In addition, ISO EAA® and ISO  BCAA® are blends of essential and branched-chain amino  acids respectively available in 1 g tablet form, with ISO BCAA® also  available in a flavoured, powder form.

Finally,  CHO CHARGE® and FUEL LOAD® contain designer CHO sources and additional B  vitamins that can be used to provide energy in the form of high and low glycemic  index respectively depending on your recovery or body composition goal.

For more information on all products,  please see the individual product pages for each product.

Further reading

  • 1. Ivy, J. L., Portman, R., Nutrient Timing: The Future of Sports Nutrition; Basic Health Publications, Inc, Laguna Beach, CA 2004.
  • 2. Levenhagen DK, Gresham JD, Carlson MG, Maron DJ, Borel MJ, Flakoll PJ (2001) Postexercise nutrient intake timing in humans is critical to recovery of leg glucose and protein homeostasis. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 280 (6), E982-E993.
  • 3. Tipton KD, Rasmussen BB, Miller SL, Wolf SE, Owens-Stovall SK, Petrini BE, Wolfe RR (2001) Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 281 (2), E197-E206.
  • 4. Ivy JL, Katz AL, Cutler CL, Sherman WM, Coyle EF (1988) Muscle glycogen synthesis after exercise: effect of time of carbohydrate ingestion. J Appl Physiol. 64 (4), 1480-1485.
  • 5. Rasmussen BB, Tipton KD, Miller SL, Wolf SE, Wolfe RR (2000) An oral essential amino acid-carbohydrate supplement enhances muscle protein anabolism after resistance exercise. J Appl Physiol. 88 (2), 386-392.
  • 6. Cribb PJ, Hayes A (2006) Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 38 (11), 1918-1925.
  • 7. Rodriguez NR, Di Marco NM, Langley S (2009) American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Nutrition and athletic performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 41 (3), 709-731.
  • 8. Kerksick C, Harvey T, Stout J, Campbell B, Wilborn C, Kreider R, Kalman D, Ziegenfuss T, Lopez H, Landis J, Ivy JL, Antonio J (2008) International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 5, 17.
  • 9. Manninen AH (2006) Hyperinsulinaemia, hyperaminoacidaemia and post-exercise muscle anabolism: the search for the optimal recovery drink. Br J Sports Med. 40 (11), 900-905.
  • 10. Flakoll PJ, Judy T, Flinn K, Carr C, Flinn S (2004) Postexercise protein supplementation improves health and muscle soreness during basic military training in Marine recruits. J Appl Physiol. 96 (3), 951-956.
  • 11. Andersen LL, Tufekovic G, Zebis MK, Crameri RM, Verlaan G, Kjaer M,  Suetta C, Magnusson P, Aagaard P (2005) The effect of resistance training  combined with timed ingestion of protein on muscle fiber size and muscle  strength. Metabolism. 54 (2),  151-156.
  • 12. Willoughby DS, Stout JR, Wilborn CD (2007) Effects of resistance training and protein plus amino acid supplementation on muscle anabolism, mass, and strength. Amino Acids. 32 (4), 467-477.
  • 13. Bird SP, Tarpenning KM, Marino FE (2006) Independent and combined effects of liquid carbohydrate/essential amino acid ingestion on hormonal and muscular adaptations following resistance training in untrained men. Eur J Appl Physiol. 97 (2), 225-238.
  • 14. Tipton KD, Wolfe RR (2004) Protein and amino acids for athletes. J Sports Sci. 22 (1), 65-79.
  • 15. Pasiakos SM, McClung JP (2011) Supplemental dietary leucine and the skeletal muscle anabolic response to essential amino acids. Nutr Rev. 69 (9), 550-557.
  • 16. Parkin JA, Carey MF, Martin IK, Stojanovska L, Febbraio MA (1997) Muscle glycogen storage following prolonged exercise: effect of timing of ingestion of high glycemic index food. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 29 (2), 220-224.
  • 17. Suzuki M, Doi T, Lee SJ, Okamura K, Shimizu S, Okano G, Sato Y, Shimomura Y, Fushiki T (1999) Effect of meal timing after resistance exercise on hindlimb muscle mass and fat accumulation in trained rats. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 45 (4), 401-409.
  • 18. Esmarck B, Andersen JL, Olsen S, Richter EA, Mizuno M, Kjaer M (2001) Timing of postexercise protein intake is important for muscle hypertrophy with resistance training in elderly humans. J Physiol. 535 (Pt 1), 301-311.