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You Must Have A Protein Shake After A Workout: Fad Or Fact?

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Studies show that protein consumption post workouts doesn't improve muscle anabolism. Instead it may result in poor protein digestion and fat deposits. Consume low calories post workouts, preferably as whole foods. The actual 'window' is every 2-4 hrs, when you consume small meals through the day to help your body recover and sustain muscle mass.

In this series, I’m stripping away the fluff around these nutrition and healthy-living myths, dogmas and practices.

Do we need to drink a protein shake immediately after our workouts, within a certain “window” of time?

To be honest, No. However, it may be beneficial on occasion. Let’s have a look at the truth behind this common myth. Very often, I see men (and women) have a protein bottle, ready to gulp down the second they’ve finished their workout. It is because they are looking to optimize their workouts by getting in protein during this peak “window of time” when the muscles “need” protein. Their intention is spot on. But the questions are:

  • Is it really needed?
  • Does it really work?

Furthermore, there are so many things we need to consider.

  • What did you eat the day before?
  • Are your muscles full of glycogen?
  • Are you fat adapted? Do you burn fat as your fuel source, rather than carbohydrates? (as seen with low-carb/high-fat eaters)
  • How long was your workout?
  • How intense was your workout?
  • Did you consume food before?
  • Are you in a state of fasting for more than 12 hours?
  • How are you hormonally set up in the present moment to burn protein or muscle?

I could go on here, but I presume you are now understanding the questions that first come to mind to a nutritionist. There are far too many options here to easily say No or Yes. Your muscle Glycogen (i.e. energy stored) contains about 350-500g of carbohydrates which is enough to fuel you through your workouts, training and other activities for longer endurance sessions like long runs. Most of my clients tend to prefer short training times with high intensity or long training times with heavy weights. What about you? Think about these questions regarding your workout times and intensity.

Protein Post Workout

There are a huge number of studies showing that exercise followed by consuming protein directly afterwards, doesn’t advance muscle anabolism (that basically means building of our lean muscle mass). What does help this process is the overall picture of the day and how much protein and fuel we’re consuming through whole foods and also our pre-workout (if available).

Eating Post Workout

What you eat post-workout is less important than looking at the context of your entire day, if you’re consuming the right calories and macro-nutrient goals for the day – not just that 30-60 minute “window”. This “window” is more like 2-4 hours, even 24 hours as one study shows.

Consumption Of Carbs

And as for our carbohydrate consumption, does that mean we need to gorge on carbohydrates post-workout too? Not necessarily. Carbohydrates with protein, didn’t change or increase the amount of muscle synthesis (i.e. growth and repair) compared to just protein alone. Does that mean you should just eat protein alone? No, but it’s definitely a higher priority. The moral of this myth stripped is to have ‘larger flexibility’ within the time post your workouts and make it work for your lifestyle.

So, if you’re able to go home and eat a whole-foods-meal with roughly 20-40g protein, depending on your goals, if you’re on the go, opt for something quick and nourishing like a vegan protein shake. Just in case you are looking for a protein powder – there’s nothing wrong with that! I love using them for a boost of protein during the day or added to smoothies, etc.

Emma Olliff
Star Expert

Emma is a qualified Nutritional Therapist (DipNT CNM) and is registered with BANT (British Association for Nutritional Therapy) and CMA (Complimentary Medical Association). She is passionate about helping her clients achieve optimum health through diet and lifestyle.

Emma Olliff
Star Expert

Emma is a qualified Nutritional Therapist (DipNT CNM) and is registered with BANT (British Association for Nutritional Therapy) and CMA (Complimentary Medical Association). She is passionate about helping her clients achieve optimum health through diet and lifestyle.

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