In ‘Coconut Oil Benefits Bodybuilders Post Workout Part 1’ I looked at why you don’t need to avoid eating fat during the post workout window.
There are many myths perpetuated as to why bodybuilders must only eat protein and carbohydrate post-workout, but none of these are very convincing:
Fats do slightly slow gastric emptying but, unless you train multiple times each day, this doesn’t matter; fat doesn’t blunt insulin response to carbohydrate and protein; and fat and carbs eaten together don’t cause unwanted fat gain in the majority of people.
Part 2 considers why you should add quickly assimilated fat in the form of coconut oil to your post-workout shake.
Coconut oil benefits you when added to your standard carbohydrate-protein recovery drink and will lead to improved muscle and strength gains and will aid in training recovery.
Coconut oil benefits bodybuilders post workout because it is highly insulinotropic; coconut oil is rapidly digested and absorbed, therefore getting to your muscles quickly; coconut oil boosts your immune system helping to prevent overtraining.
Coconut oil also replenishes Intra muscular fatty acid (IMFA) stores post workout. IMFA replenishment creates a greater pump post workout, which leads to an improved muscle growth, and IMFAs form part of muscle cell membranes.
Coconut oil is the fat equivalent of Whey protein!
There are a number of reasons why most bodybuilders consider whey protein to be the premier protein source to use post-workout:
1) A quality whey protein isolate or concentrate isn’t taxing to the digestive system in the way other protein sources like say a steak would be – whey can be eaten post workout without making you want to hurl.
The absolute best choice would be whey hydrolysate which has been shown to produce a greater insulin response than isolate, and this effect is unrelated to gastric emptying.
2) Whey is rapidly absorbed so your muscles will receive the amino acids they’re craving more quickly than with whole food protein sources. This characteristic of whey makes it great for speeding up both muscle building and muscle recovery.
3) Whey is a glucogenic protein source that raises both insulin and igf-1 levels. This is ideal post workout because insulin counteracts the post workout cortisol rise and therefore halts muscle catabolism after exercise. As well as this, whey actually contains small amounts of exogenous igf-1 (although, whether this makes it through the digestive system intact is unproven).
4) Whey protein is one of the best foods that you can eat for immune system enhancement. Undenatured whey protein contains high levels of the amino acid cysteine which is one of the building blocks of the body’s most important antioxidant, glutathione.
Regularly eating high quality whey protein is a proven way to increase the levels of glutathione in the body(2), and this will help athletes to recover more quickly after training as well as helping us feel young and healthy. Whey also is a great natural source of lactoferrin, a single-chain glycoprotein that is crucially important to our immune systems.
In many respects coconut oil is the fat equivalent of whey protein and therefore may be the ideal fat to use post-workout:
Coconut oil is quickly digested and absorbed
Coconut oil is primarily made up of Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFAs). MCFAs are smaller than the Long Chain Fatty Acids contained in the oils and fats we normally eat or cook with.
The MCFAs in coconut oil require less energy and fewer enzymes to break them down than standard fats, so they are easily digested and are absorbed extremely quickly. Coconut oil benefits us post workout because it won’t delay the carbs and amino acids you’ve eaten from reaching your hungry muscles nearly as much as other fats will.
Coconut oil is so easy on the digestive system that it is recommended for infants with undeveloped digestive systems and people who suffer from malabsorption problems such as cystic fibrosis(3). Therefore using coconut oil benefits us after intense exercise when our digestive systems aren’t in the best condition to handle food.
Coconut oil stimulates insulin secretion
Contrary to popular belief, not only does dietary carbohydrate and some amino acids stimulate insulin secretion, but some dietary fats actually cause an insulin spike too! Certain fatty acids have been shown to increase insulin release in response to glucose(4) and lauric acid is one of the most insulinotropic out of all of the fatty acids(5).
This goes against the long standing belief that fats need to be avoided post workout as they blunt insulin response. Actually, coconut oil benefits those looking to build muscle by increasing the insulin spike created by your post-workout meal. Don’t worry about fat gain from taking coconut oil post workout because coconut oil is a thermogenic fat that is highly unlikely to be stored as body fat. (See ‘Coconut Oil Benefits for Bodybuilders – The Fat Burning Fat!’)
Coconut oil benefits trainers on low or reduced carb diets
Looked at from a different perspective, this insulinotropic quality of coconut oil would make it excellent to use post-workout if you are on a reduced or low carb diet. Many trainers, myself included, don’t use the quantity of carbs that many recommend post-workout.
Coconut oil will allow you to create as large an insulin spike with a lesser glucose load i.e. you could take 40 grams of glucose post-workout instead of 90 grams whilst still stimulating insulin significantly. This is important for dieters who find that even post-workout they are prone to fat gain/ health problems from taking in high levels of glucose.
Similarly, if you are on a ketogenic diet, the combination of whey protein, coconut milk/ oil and glutamine (and optionally BCAAs) would greatly spike insulin, which will oppose cortisol, without the inclusion of any carbs. Whilst some carbs are helpful for most athletes post-workout, this meal will go a great way to speeding the muscle building and recovery processes for athletes who, for whatever reason, want to restrict carbs.
Coconut oil benefits trainers by improving immune system function
Serious weights training has the potential to lower immune system function if you’re not careful, and this is why we are more prone to catching colds and feel more tired when we’re on a tough programme.
This isn’t a reason to stop weights training or even to avoid tough programmes. By all means listen to your body and dial down if you’re consistently experiencing symptoms of overtraining, but be aware that our bodies do adapt to weights training. Training with weights will bring about health improvements in the future above and beyond the immediate benefits of making you look more attractive.
Just like high quality whey protein, regular eating of coconut oil benefits us by improving immune system function and this will allow us to train harder without overtraining.
Chronic viral infections such as the herpes and Epstein-Barr viruses can exist in people without them even knowing it. These viruses can silently cause symptoms such as weakness, fatigue and poor muscular recovery, all things we want to avoid for general well being and especially if we’re going to hit peak performance levels in the gym.
Research suggests that coconut oil is able to disable the herpes and Epstein-Barr viruses. Even more impressively, the medium chain fats Lauric and Capric acid in coconut oil destroy the HIV virus in vitro. Many HIV+ individuals have been able to significantly reduce their viral loads by consuming coconut oil and/or coconut products regularly(6).
In addition to disabling troubling viruses within the body, coconut oil benefits people struggling with chronic candidiasis.
I’m not going to, like many scaremongers out there, suggest that everyone in the western world has Candida overgrowth without knowing it. If you do have Candida overgrowth it is energy sapping and will worsen your motivation to train and your recovery from training.
Coconut oil at around 3 tablespoons a day resolves this problem for many people, and it achieves this without killing off the good probiotic flora in your stomach like antibiotics and many other anti-candida supplements do.
Coconut oil refuels intramuscular fatty acid stores post workout!
During weights training your muscles are fuelled by a combination of 1) glycogen, supplied by dietary carbohydrate and protein, and 2) intramuscular triglycerides (IMTG), derived from dietary fat. Just as glycogen is used up when you work out, so is IMTG.
Much is known about glycogen as a fuel for weight lifting but less is known about IMTG. Researchers suggest that IMTGs are important for muscle building and strength gain because they provide energy for the muscles, have a muscle-cell volumising effect which directly stimulates muscle cell growth and because they form part of muscle cell membranes. It appears that the body’s IMTG storage capacity can be improved through exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, and through eating a high fat lower carbohydrate diet(7).
Long chain fatty acids (LCFAs) are digested into lipoproteins and then moved to the blood stream via the lymphatic system where they circulate throughout the body as free fatty acids. Muscles normally receive IMTGs from circulating free fatty acids or plasma triglycerides and this happens via the carnitine transfer system.
However, it takes time for the lymphatic system to circulate LCFAs and the carnitine transport system itself is fairly slow. The end result is that eating long chain fats after a workout will not replenish IMTG quickly.
Coconut oil benefits you at this time as it is predominantly made up of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) rather than LCFAs. Unlike LCFAs, MCFAs aren’t transported via the lymphatic system but are absorbed from the intestines into the portal vein and sent straight to the liver.
When you eat coconut oil post-workout, the medium chain fats rapidly reach the liver where they are sent to the muscles to refuel your IMTG stores. MCFAs cross the double membrane of the muscle mitochondria (energy producing organelles of cells) more quickly than other fats. LCFAs require special enzymes to pull them through the double membrane of the muscle mitochondria, which takes time; MCFAs rapidly permeate the two membranes of the mitochondria without requiring enzymes to do so.
I suggest that if you add full fat coconut milk or a tablespoon of coconut oil to your whey and simple carbs shake you will feel a greater pump, and this will lead to better muscle growth. You will also recover more quickly from training and be able to train harder without overtraining.
The combination of MCFAs from coconut oil and glucose from grape juice or maltodextrin or waxy maize starch etc. restores both intramuscular triglyceride and glycogen rapidly after training. Fat free post-workout shakes only replenish muscle glycogen and ignore intramuscular triglyceride – refuelling both immediately post-workout will trigger greater increases in both muscle volume and strength.
In this article we’ve looked at why the arguments for avoiding fat post-workout just don’t stack up. Muscles don’t solely rely upon glycogen but also rely upon Intra Muscular Fatty Acids as fuel. These IMFAs are important to muscle building and muscle recovery and therefore should be refuelled alongside glycogen post-workout.
Coconut oil benefits bodybuilders post-workout because it is quickly digested and absorbed, is insulinotropic and will prime your immune system to deal with serious training. Mix coconut milk/ oil with whey and grape juice for a delicious, cheap post weights-training drink that will accelerate your muscle and strength building gains.
For information on how coconut oil benefits dieters read ‘Coconut Oil Benefits for Bodybuilders – The Fat Burning Fat!’
Ed Clements is a fitness and health writer who offers advice to men and women explaining how to optimise hormone balance through diet, training, lifestyle improvement and through intelligent supplementation.
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References and Footnotes
(2)Kent K, Harper W, Bomser J, 2003. “Effect of whey protein isolate on intracellular glutathione and oxidant-induced cell death in human prostate epithelial cells”. Toxicology in Vitro, 17:27-33.
(3)Bruce Fife, The Coconut Oil Miracle – p.126
(6)Mark Konlee, Immune Restoration Handbook, p.138
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