Author: Maria Fischer • Fact checked by: Tara D. Thies • Aug. 25, 2020
Protein is frequently used after exercise, as this is when our bodies are trying to rebuild glycogen stores and regrow muscle proteins. During exercise muscles use up their glycogen stores for fuel, partially depleting the muscles of this form of energy. Some of the proteins within muscles also get broken down and damaged, so consuming protein post-exercise can allow for efficient muscle recovery. While bodybuilders and others looking to preserve or gain body mass are most known for following high-protein diets that involve lots of lean meat and protein shakes, that's just one dimension of protein. In addition to being important for size and strength, studies also show that protein can be important for preserving muscle mass when burning energy during exercise.
In other words, even if your goal is weight loss and you are happy with your current level of muscle mass, meeting your protein needs is still important so you can prevent muscle loss, which could negatively impact your strength and physical health depending on your daily schedule and routine.
But just how much protein should you eat after a workout? Eating the right amount of nutrients after exercise can help your body decrease muscle protein breakdown while also increasing muscle protein synthesis, or growth. Generally, you should aim to have at least 20 to 40 grams of protein in your post-workout snack, but that number can change based on certain factors.
As stated above, people are advised to consume 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight or 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day; however, people who stay active might want to have closer to 1.7-2 grams per kilogram, or around 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. Studies have shown that ingesting 20 to 40 grams of protein seems to maximize the body's ability to recover after exercise. But as for the exact amount of protein you should have after a workout, the answer depends on what kind of workout you were doing. If you just finished a HIIT workout or sweated it out on a long run, you’ll likely need more protein to refuel than if you just did a quick yoga flow or a casual walk around the neighborhood.
If you’re exercising regularly in an effort to lose weight, your protein needs are likely around 1-1.2 grams protein per pound bodyweight. This amount of protein will help keep you full throughout the day, even though you’re burning through more calories than you likely were before starting your weight loss journey.
If your focus is on muscle building, then protein consumption is obviously important, but you also need to focus more on carbohydrate consumption — especially post-exercise. Consuming more calories in general will help stimulate that desired muscle growth. Stick with 1-1.5 grams protein per pound bodyweight, but be sure to add more carbs if you want to gain more muscle mass. Make healthy carbs like fruits, vegetables, starchy vegetables, and whole grains part of your post-workout meal or snack. Remember: timing is everything. Adding more carbs to your diet when you’re trying to up your protein intake might sound scary, but if you consume your carbs after working out, your body is primed to use them for energy. Most bodybuilders will opt for carbs that are low on the glycemic index but high in fiber, such as beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Since your goal is to build muscle and sculpt your body, consider adopting a similar strategy.
And finally, if you’re an endurance athlete who bikes long distances, runs marathons or competes in triathlons, your body is going through a lot of fuel during these long workouts. This means you’ll need higher stores of carbohydrates than you would if you were mainly strength training or doing HIIT workouts, so your ideal protein consumption during your endurance training might be closer to 0.6 to 0.9 grams protein per pound bodyweight instead of 1-1.5 grams protein per pound bodyweight.
You can consume your post-workout protein in various forms, whether you’re getting your protein intake from foods like eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, salmon, chicken or tuna, or through drinks like a smoothie, a protein shake or even a glass of chocolate milk. Maybe you prefer pea protein over whey protein, or maybe egg white protein powder is your go-to. As you can see, protein comes in many forms. But what matters is making sure you’re getting enough protein to meet your goals. The form of your protein itself isn’t as important.
When it comes to post-workout snacks, the emphasis is often on protein. But it’s important to remember that you actually do need to eat a mix of carbs and fats after your workout to optimize recovery and restore your energy levels. While protein is pivotal, you don’t want a post-workout meal to be all protein. Aim for a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein, especially if you’ve finished an endurance workout.
So if you consume 40 grams of protein after your workout, make sure you’re also having 120 grams of carbs so your meal isn’t too protein-heavy. A winning refuel combination of protein and carbs will ensure your body can maximize protein and glycogen synthesis.
Per recent findings by Harvard Medical School, people that eat diets too high in protein have a higher risk of kidney stones. Also, a high-protein diet that contains lots of red meat and higher amounts of saturated fat might lead to a higher risk of heart disease and colon cancer (however, a high protein diet rich in plant-based proteins may not carry similar risks). Experts advise getting protein from healthy sources in healthy amounts and to avoid excessive consumption of protein sources that contain highly-processed carbohydrates and saturated fats. Consuming too much protein can also lead to a calorie surplus, which may not be in line with your goals.
The goal is to have your post-workout protein within your anabolic window, the period of time post-exercise when your body gets the most out of nutrients. During this short period of post-workout time, your body is primed to use amino acids for muscle protein synthesis. It was previously thought that a person’s anabolic window was only 60 minutes after working out; however, recent research has shown that this window is double this amount of time. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, you can consume protein any time up to two hours after completing your workout for optimal performance and recovery.
Although you have up to two hours, many people like to get in their protein sooner after their workout rather than later, especially if they’ve completed a workout that has them feeling burnt out. And when your protein comes in a delicious form, it feels like a reward that you get to enjoy post-workout, so why wait to refuel? Gainful offers personalized protein blends that are created based on your dietary needs, weight, sex and overall goals along with different flavor packets that you can choose based on your cravings. Your monthly order will include unflavored protein along with single-serving Flavor Boosts, so you always have something flavorful to enjoy after your workout. Think flavors like rich cocoa, caffè mocha, chocolate peanut butter, strawberry milkshake, madagascar vanilla and cookies & cream.
Simply choose your favorite flavor stick, tear it open, and mix with each scoop of personalized Gainful protein and 8 oz. liquid . Many Gainful drinkers attest that they even start looking forward to getting their workout in just so they can make a shake afterward. All of the Gainful flavor sticks are plant-based, gluten-free, soy-free and contain 100% natural flavors, and with half a dozen delicious flavors to enjoy, you’ll never get bored with your post-exercise protein.
As discussed above, there’s no “magic number” for the amount of protein you should consume after exercising. The amount of post-workout protein each person needs varies, and while there are general recommendations, what may work for others might not be the best for you. But because Gainful protein powder was customized specifically for you and your fitness journey, each scoop is packed with just the right amount of protein you need to achieve your goals.
For any lingering questions about your post-workout protein, don’t forget you have a dedicated Registered Dietitian on-hand as part of your Gainful subscription. Your R.D. is here to answer any questions about your daily protein consumption, so you can always make sure you’re getting the right amount of protein after your workout. You can also ask your R.D. for post-workout snack or meal ideas, so you can switch up the ways you take your protein without accidentally consuming too much or too little. With some guidance and a little experimentation, you'll discover a protein intake level that puts you on the right path to achieving your goals and gives you confidence that you're working towards a healthier version of yourself.
Let Gainful help take the guesswork out of your post-workout protein.
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