There are seemingly endless studies, often contradicting each other, that tell us when to consume protein after a workout and that can sometimes bury the more important why of post-workout protein. In this article we’ll discuss why your body might need protein after a workout and some ways you can meet that need.
What happens when you work out
Your body draws on its glycogen stores while you exercise. Unless you are doing a very high-intensity workout, you’re unlikely to deplete all of those glycogen stores, and even if you do, your body can switch over and start burning from fat reserves in the short term. After a workout your body is more ketogenic than usual, which means if you’re looking to lose weight, you shouldn’t eat right after a workout.
If you aren’t focused on weight loss, however, you are simply looking to top up your glycogen stores as well as give your body additional material with which to repair and build muscle. While opinions vary as to exactly how much protein you should take (because factors like age, height, weight, etc. matter), a consensus of a minimum protein intake per day for a sedentary (inactive) man is around 60 grams. Therefore an active man should be consuming at least 30 grams or more per meal, given three meals a day.
What is protein?
Protein is a macronutrient. It repairs damage to your body (both the kind you can and can’t see), helps with the immune system, and in general, makes you feel content (think food coma when you’ve enjoyed perhaps a bit too much protein). Protein takes longer for your body to digest, so it keeps you feeling satisfied for longer, preventing you from feeling the “need” for that convenient snack.
While the word “protein” may evoke protein bars or protein powder, which have their uses, natural and delicious ways to get protein include eggs, greek yogurt, cottage cheese, salmon, chicken, and tuna. You can help speed the uptake of that protein via fats like avocados, nuts, and nut butters. Not exactly the least delicious way to start your day!
Consistency is key
Part of figuring out how protein fits in with your workout is being consistent about how workouts fit into your day and routine. If it’s in the morning before your workday, protein as part of a breakfast probably makes a lot of sense. If it’s in the afternoon in between meals, you might want to just drink an isotonic drink like gatorade to refresh rather than take in a lot of protein. Whatever your routine might be, your body will benefit most when you are consistent rather than haphazard.
Do you have any favorite post-workout foods? Share them in the comments below!