The idea has been repeated by personal trainers and nutrition experts everywhere: protein is an essential part of post-workout nutrition. The widespread use of protein shakes, whey supplements and protein bars at the gym further adds to the protein hype. Why is there such a heavy emphasis on post-workout protein? And is it really as important as everyone says? As it turns out, your post-training protein intake can make all the difference to improving muscle strength.
Why Does Post-Workout Protein Matter?
Despite its many benefits, exercise is also a major physiological stressor. Exercise can trigger responses such as muscle soreness, a boosted appetite and the need for more sleep. This is because working out uses up your muscle’s fuel stores while damaging and breaking down muscle protein. Whether you’re training for endurance sports or for strength development, this effect results in your body tearing down weaker muscles and replacing them with stronger ones. The process is known as “remodeling”. This means that you need to provide your exhausted body the fuel it needs to rebuild those muscles. Protein contains amino acids which are the building blocks essential to muscle growth and repair.
Fortunately, your body’s ability to rebuild protein increases after a workout, which is why a post-training protein shake, bar or a meal rich in protein and carbs is so beneficial. Making protein a part of your overall post-workout nutrition can help aid recovery, stimulate protein synthesis in the muscles and boost performance during your next workout.
“So, if I just start exercising and drinking protein shakes, I’ll soon look like the guy in this article’s cover image?!” Not so fast. Many factors play into a person’s ability to develop muscle mass like that guy. Muscle mass can have little to do with muscle strength, and genetics may play a more important role in how your body develops muscle mass than your protein intake. Protein’s job is to build and repair muscles, but don’t correlate that activity directly to the development of a body builder’s physique. On the other hand, don’t expect a protein depleted individual to develop or perform as well as one that is properly replenishing their body post workout.
Think of it this way. You know you would perform better by eating a well balanced diet than a diet that is consistently filled with macaroni and cheese and french fries. Likewise, post-workout protein will provide your body with the proper fuel to replenish, restore and build stronger (perhaps larger) muscles in your body.
When and How Much to Eat
Many experts claim that the best time to consume protein and maximize its benefits is within 45 minutes of completing your workout. However, some studies say that muscles maintain their increased protein sensitivity for up to 24 hours or more after your work out. Either way, keep in mind that this protein sensitivity is highest during the metabolic window that occurs immediately after exercise, and gradually decreases over time.
For an average man, experts recommend consuming 0.6 to 0.9 grams of protein for every pound of body weight. For those looking to maximize their training, consuming 25 to 40 grams of protein within the one to two hours before and after working out is the way to go.
What Should You Eat to Get Your Post-Workout Protein?
A protein shake, which is easy to prepare and readily digestible is often more palatable than whole foods right after a workout. Other options include tuna on toast, pita and hummus, or a bowl of Greek yogurt with berries or nuts. If you’re willing to cook, go for salmon or grilled chicken with a side of vegetables, or whip up an egg omelet. Whatever you choose, don’t forget to also drink plenty of water to rehydrate and restore fluids lost through sweat.
For a 180 pound man, following the advice of experts, 108 to 160 grams per day is the goal. This volume can easily be attained with simple supplementation. Here are some examples of way to boost the volume:
- Core Power – a 12 oz bottled drink: Lite: 20 grams, Regular: 26 grams, Elite: 42 grams
- Whey Powders – there are so many, expect them to provide 28-56 gm – (by adding it to 12 oz of 2% milk and get 12 gm more) – Progenex is an example of a typical whey protein isolate
- 3 eggs, 3 slices of bacon, & 12 oz 2% milk – 18 grams + 9 grams + 12 grams for 39 grams
The Monetary Cost of Protein
Eating “clean”, meaning foods from the perimeter of the grocery, is a great way to maximize your protein intake and limit “empty calories”. However, eating meals rich in protein is not an inexpensive way to go. There is also the cost of supplements. Core Power for example retails for $3.49 – $3.99 per bottle. Most Whey Protein powders range from $2.00-$3.50 per serving. So expect that you will need to make an investment to achieve the right diet and supplements to get the protein you need.
Evidence shows that protein is an essential part of post-exercise nutrition, helping to maximize your workout while improving recovery. Down a protein shake or tuck into a meal rich in carbs and protein after every training session to take your fitness routine to the next level.