PWO shakes - help or hype?

Do the currently trendy high-GI carb/whey hydrolysate PWO drinks actually offer any marginal benefit over and above a sound nutritional plan? I would argue that they don’t, for the following reasons:

  1. One of the most important studies supporting this practice found that very small quantities of whey and carbs (6g PRO and 8g CHO?) stimulated protein synthesis and glycogen resynthesis in the post-workout period. This has now been extrapolated to the point where Berardi recommends 40g+ PRO and 100g+ CHO for many athletes. Why do we need this much if less will do? Wouldn’t it be sensible to take in more of the daily energy intake in real food, given its associated benefits (micronutrients, phytonutrients, fibre, increased satiety, etc.)? What Berardi recommends is essentially 500+ empty calories, every training day.

  2. Why are we using high-GI carbs and aminos/whey hydrolysate? Berardi and others will argue that the rate of digestion, and thus the rates of protein and glycogen synthesis, is greater, which is a good thing. They’ll also say that these will lead to a large insulin response, which is anabolic. I would argue that there are two reasons why Berardi’s plan calls for these ingredients: 1. Lab-based studies often use PRO and CHO in their purest forms to reduce third-variable effects, so perhaps Berardi recommends the pure compounds simply because the effectiveness of real food has not been tested against the high-GI/hydrolysate combo; 2. Berardi’s overall eating plans often call for very few carbs to be ingested during the day prior to training. For athletes with high workloads this may mean that their glycogen levels will be low prior to training and will require rapid replenishment. If adequate CHO is taken in during the day, perhaps this becomes unnecessary?

  3. This point is reported third-hand from one of the ruggedmag forums, so take it for what it’s worth. Apparently one of the researchers who worked on the studies upon which Berardi’s PWO reccomendations are based, has said that he feels that any differences in performance between athletes taking in a Berardi-style drink and those taking in real food would take years to show up, if at all.

  4. It is my understanding that, during and after intense exercise, insulin response is severely blunted. This means that we’re taking in a lot of sugary carbs in the hopes that we’ll generate an anabolic insulin response, but the carbs probably have very little effect at this time. Since we’re not going to get a big insulin surge from sugars at this time, why not take in some carbs that have some nutritional value?

  5. Personal experience. I’ve found that it’s both more enjoyable and no less effective to eat real food rather than sugar/whey shakes. Granted, my own training is more endurance than strength/power oriented, but my workload and levels of energy system stress are relatively high. My performance continues to improve rapidly since switching from a whey/malto combo during and post-workout to some whey concentrate mixed with milk and all-bran cereal or oatmeal. I should also note that I’ve also tried Surge and Chemical Nutrition’s Pro-Recover and have found neither to be more effective than either my homemade shake or my current meal.

Aren’t guys like Clemson using shakes that are (in Berardi’s opinion) less than optimal for compliance reasons? Isn’t he still getting results with his athletes?

Would be interested to hear thoughts on this.


I agree. These days I only use a high glycemic whey/glucose shake after only the most demanding workouts.

and what do you consume on all the other days?

Good Post - have wondered about this without being able to phrase a question quite so intelligently! Your theory would seem to be supported by what info Charlie has given on what his guys did PWO.

If I may broaden the thread, what should athletes be consuming if not a specific PWO formula? A light whole-food meal?

The posit to Clemson is point 6, and point 7 of the question should be: “Why are we getting advise from Berardi?” Asking him for the frequency and quantity of his products to use is the equivalent of asking Baskin and Robbins to advise you on your ideal weight (The answer is 400 lbs).
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- use a high GI product ony after the most intense workouts on your schedule- level 5 on a scale of 1 to 5.
Level 5 workouts are exhausting during and after execution and they suppress the appetite and keep blood in the muscles and out of the digestive tract for a prolonged period, making it difficult to get the nutrition required to the muscles in a timely fashion through normal food.
Most sprint programs only have one such session per week.

Also don’t forget - Most of the research carb/protein drink manufacturers are using to push their products on people have used subjects that were exercised in the fasted state. Of course any nutrition whether pre or postworkout will appear to have a magical effect in this situation. There is a postworkout window but I’d just as soon eat something like a big bowl of oats with some whey protein and haven’t noticed any differences between that and a liquid drink. However, I recommend liquid nutrition because most people aren’t hungry for hours after their workout and I know with a PWO drink they at least will be avoiding some catabolism.

Ok then for a typical lifting workout by itself, what would be an appropriate pre and post workout drink.

You can certainly use shakes whenever you want- as long as you reserve the high GI post W/O drinks for the most intense sessions.

The point Charlie makes is IMO the key issue here - John Berardi focus is mainly on Bodybuilding and body composition so the majority of his data is such influenced.
Anything we take from his work we need to bear that in mind.
His aims are to improve health and body comp not necessarily to improve sports performance as we refer to it.

I agree with alot of Don’s post - however just to make 2 points …

JB’s programs emphasisie whole food more than many/most nutritionalists, in fact he doesn’t even promote the use of Multi Vits. as he claims solid food can supply all the photonutrients required.
The 500+ calories you talk about are based on his formulas for weigth gain - which I admit even I find a little high to reach.

The aim of JB’s program is to limit carbs (as is CP’s aim in his programs) and so to encourage the body to avoid storing fat by converting excess carbs. He also makes the point that todays diet is so Carb heavy in the extreme that lowering carbs can assist in treating or affecting many other illnesses etc. such as diabetes etc.

One final point - I would still reccomend PWO shakes if I was concerned an athlete wasn’t eating enough - once the taste is of ‘wombat urine’ drinks are consumed easier, faster and genernally completely rather than whole food immedialtely PWO.

So Real food over PWO drinks?

IMO - Yes in almost every case - except where after intense exercise faster absorbing nurients can be acessed by the muscles Post workout in the form of a drink etc.

Bear with me here:

Charlie is quite clear on this - could he be clearer?!

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- use a high GI product ony after the most intense workouts on your schedule- level 5 on a scale of 1 to 5.”

KellyB offers an example of an alternative PWO meal:

“There is a postworkout window but I’d just as soon eat something like a big bowl of oats with some whey protein”

But right after a session you need to stretch out (20-30 mins), shower etc. What do you do? Come home after your session make a bowl of oats +whey drink and then begin to stretch out. PWO drinks (homemade or otherwise) are just so convenient:

Finish Workout - Drink PWO Drink - Stretch

I know convenience isn’t the be all and end all, but maybe this is just one of the reasons why PWO drinks are so popular…?

Couldn’t you use a PWO drink thta isn’t high GI?

Alex, see Charlie’s post above.

Ya I know, I wasn’t asking the question, just reinforcing the point to athlete 400 m

Such as Go! Recovery Drink…?!?

I was thinking of a seperate diluted juice and whey drink PWO.


is this the product you used to use? Something similar?

Here is where Charlie spoke before about his BCAA usage …
… and …

These products generally have the amino profile you’re loking for - interms of recovery …

But this may be a more exact Musashi BCAA product to that which you’re referring…

However - bear in mind you could probably get better value products from other suppliers and make up your own supplement pack.
You may not have the ‘gaurantee’ or track record that Musashi seemingly have though - so it’s up to you.

Musashi can be very expensive so bear that in mind

Oh yeh - and also 66 grms? - that’s very little and won’t last long - consider Charles Polquin would reccomend that be used in one workout!
(Well not exactly - but perhaps not far off)

The product Clemson spoke about recently may be another option for you ?

Clemson -

I remebering reading some time ago about concerns about the stability of protein in packaged RTD shakes and how that the heating needed to stabilise the protein caused damage to the effectiveness of the drinks.

Have you read anything on that topic?
Or do you know if this remains an issue?

I’m just wondering …
Personally I haven’t used Go! as I can’t get it over here - so it’s not an issue for me - though I’d love to try it - (maybe we could arrange something so you could send me over some or put me in touch with a supplier - to give it a test run) - anyway - I can’t give my opinion on the drink itself.

However I do like the idea of a convienent low GI nutritional dirnk that has fastish acting proteins and carbs.

My memory’s failing me somewhat so I can’t remember many specifics but Nightmare4d said GO! is processed in a special way so that it is not heated to damage but things like Ensure are.

“However I do like the idea of a convienent low GI nutritional dirnk that has fastish acting proteins and carbs”

Why…please expand No23?

Pete the flash heating buddy…also Guys like ben ate grilled meat…and he grew!

The emphasis on High GI carbs has convinced a very many people that grabbing a very high GI (essentially Sugar drink) sometimes with no protein after even light Tempo-like sessions - that spike insulin and overload the blood with sugary carbs.

Is this necessary?

I don’t regard this as good practice - try and use real food as much as possible - especially post Tempo - but where not possible - use convienent low GI nutritional dirnk that has fastish acting proteins and carbs - and even some fat.

But do you know if there are concerns about the stability of protein in packaged RTD shakes? and how that the heating needed to stabilise the protein caused damage to the effectiveness of the drinks…

Thanks Pete - I think you’re right though.

Thanks 23.

This is the one I was interested in off that site you posted:

gonna use during intense workouts and save the hi GI stuff for really intense workouts (as recommended here). Must go back and see dosage what Charlie has recommended before.

Something like:
5 grams after first 60-90 mins
5 grams every 30 after.

Will check it, its something like that. Thanks.