Everybody has a post-workout ritual they like to follow to the letter. You may switch the music on your headphones to something more chill, cool down on the mat with some stretching, then wash away the sweat in the shower.
More importantly, the end of a workout signals that it’s time to EAT!
Whether your goal is to pack on muscle or lose inches from the waistline, mealtime is one of the great joys of the post-workout routine, even if it’s just a Shake FX.
The equation is simple enough: crush the workout, take a breather, and get the protein in your system as fast as possible. But as with every aspect of fitness, there are always more pieces to the puzzle, and questions that need answering.
How much protein should we really be eating when our workout ends, what type of protein is best to attain certain results, and is there truth to the phenomenon of the “post-workout window” you read about online and in magazines?
We’re addressing all of these topics and more in this article, so stay tuned.
You’ll know exactly the right amount of protein to eat to hit your goals, and how to balance protein intake throughout the day to accelerate your progress. Let’s get right to it.
The Bare Minimum
First things first – the hype around post-workout protein is real, and there are plenty of scientific reports to back it up.
Researchers have proven that eating protein shortly after an exercise session will flood the muscles and organs with vital amino acids, helping our bodies recover far more quickly from the tough session we’ve just endured.
It’s not just powerlifters and bodybuilders who require an immediate blast of post-workout protein. Whether you run several miles, grind it out on the stationary spin bike, or push yourself to the limit in a dance class workout routine, protein is a necessity, and the sooner the better.
This doesn’t mean you have to chug that protein shake within 20 minutes of your final repetition or burst of aerobic activity, but ideally, you’ll have some protein within 30-60 minutes to heal the microscopic damage done to muscles and joints.
The amount of protein you consume also matters. Anywhere from 20 to 30 grams will be sufficient for most people, research shows.
This makes it easy to eat within the suggested window of time. All you need to do is add water, shake it up for a few seconds, and drink it down without a second thought. It’s an easy, foolproof process that comes in handy for nutrition veterans and newcomers alike.
As we’ll discover, you have some wiggle room with the amount of protein you eat post-workout, and the quality of the nutrients are important as well. But for now, just remember to intake at least 20 grams to give your body what it needs most after a serious session.
Don’t Overdo It, Either
Let’s say you just finished a massive workout and you’re ready to dig into an enormous feast to reward yourself. You’ve earned it, right? Plus, the body needs that protein to recover!
Not so fast, because there is an upper limit to the amount of protein you can eat in a single session before you start to see diminishing returns. Just like working out, there is a sweet spot between too little and too much to achieve optimal results.
According to British researchers, the benefits of protein consumption start to trail off around the 40-gram mark, meaning that it won’t do you much good to take down that second shake.
These scientists found that the metabolic impact of 20 and 40-gram protein shakes were basically identical, and anything above 40 grams could actually be wasteful.
Keep That Protein Flowing All Day
That post-workout window is the perfect opportunity to slam some protein on the fly, but to fully heal the muscles and recover successfully, we need to eat protein more frequently throughout the day.
Science suggests that around a gram (or slightly less) of protein per pound of body weight is the optimal amount for daily intake. This can be accomplished more easily than you think, especially with the help of eggs, yogurt, and the almighty protein powder.
You’ll find that when your protein protocol is dialed in, everything else in your diet regimen falls into place. Being part of an online fitness community can definitely help you track your protein goals with advice and support from people you trust.
Combine with Other Key Nutrients
It’s common to keep the focus on protein when first getting into diet and exercise since we hear so much about it in publications and marketing. But we can’t forget that protein is just a part of the entire equation, and quality carbs, fats, and micronutrients also play a key role in overall health.
Protein may be the star of the show, but don’t overlook the supporting cast.
Despite the low-carb diet crazes and mixed signals about fat, the body demands these nutrients no matter where you’re at in your fitness journey. Even if you’re trying to shed some pounds, carbs and fat will give you clean fuel to tackle your workouts and lose the weight.
Once again, the quality of these nutrients can vary greatly, so avoid the pre-packaged and processed carbs and fats that you see in many packaged foods. It’s always better to stick with the fresh stuff when you can and cook your food in real-time to unlock all of the nutritional benefits.
You won’t be surprised to find that the carbs in a sweet potato are better for your body than a bag of pretzels or potato chips. Likewise, the fat from grass-fed beef is superior to the fat from a box of donuts.
We all have an intuitive sense of what’s good and bad in the realm of health, so use your best judgment and stick to the game plan. Find the right amount of protein for your needs, hit that post-workout window, and keep your diet clean. Your fitness results are on the way!