Lifting weights and drinking protein shakes go hand in hand. Because getting that protein flowing through your veins immediately after a workout is the essential,right? Well, not really. Because it’s not the when, but the what and how much that truly matters. So whether you’re a vegetarian, meat eater, or milk drinker, I have the shake answers for you!
Why Not When?
The old way of thinking that you must get protein within your “anabolic window” after you workout is nothing more than a meathead myth. There have been loads of studies on the matter, and we know with a pretty high level of confidence that having protein immediately after your workout will have the same result as having protein 6 hours after your workout (1). Unless you’re Wolverine and have super fast healing powers, your muscles take a long time to repair and regenerate after getting broken down during your workouts. In fact, muscles can be highly sensitive to the anabolic influence of protein up to 2 days after a workout (2)! Now, I will say that there is one caveat to protein timing. It is most beneficial to consume protein every 3 hours. However, that point is moot if you’re not getting enough total protein.
What Totally Matters?
What matters more than the type of protein and the timing of protein is the total protein you get in a day. Like sleep, if you’re not getting enough, it doesn’t matter when you get it. Just get more! There really is no limit to how much protein you can have in a day. We know that very high protein diets don’t result in harmful effects on blood lipids (cholesterol) or liver and kidney function (3). We also know that not getting enough can result in sub-optimal recovery from exercise, and poor health outcomes especially for an older population (4). While the general recommendation is 1.2 to 2.2 g/ kg of body weight (1g/lbs) of protein per day, I personally recommend shooting for 100g of protein a day as a starting point. That means getting 20g of protein every 3 hours. This isn’t a strict recommendation. Your body can process a lot of protein at one time, especially when the protein eaten. Even if you drink your protein, the old myth of your body only being able to process 20g of protein at a time has been busted. Especially after a full body workout, you will utilize every bit of a 40g protein drink without wasting anything (5).
Yo Soy Whey Cool
So what does all the previous information have to do with protein shakes? Well, for most people, trying to get 20g of protein every 3 hours means drinking a shake every now and then. It may also mean that when your choice of protein sources is limited (vegan/vegetarian), that you will need to find a way to get a few key protein components into your routine. This is due to the fact that plant protein sources, such as soy and peas, are often low in key amino acids such as methionine, tryptophan, lysine, and leucine. This means you will need to plan ahead to make sure that you get all of these essential amino acids, leucine being of the greatest importance, especially after a workout. Regardless of the source, you will want to look for proteins high in leucine because that’s the component that will help your muscles repair and develop the best (6). Instead of blabbering on, I’ll finish with a list of fun facts and pertinent tips:
Best protein sources for weight loss – casein and soy. These protein sources will fill you up the best, which means you need to eat less, which means you lose more weight (7).
BCAA’s are worthless – Drinking protein during your workout won’t really do anything at all to help you gain more muscles. BCAA drinks won’t make you feel full or burn more calories than eating your protein or drinking a shake either. Unless you’re in the middle of a marathon, skip the BCAA’s.
Confused? Here’s what to do – Focus on getting more protein in general. Don’t worry about the minutia until you nail down the basics. When it comes to protein, the more the better!
1. Schoenfeld, B. J., Aragon, A. A., & Krieger, J. W. (2013). The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: A meta-analysis. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1), 53-53. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-53
2. McGlory, C., Devries, M. C., & Phillips, S. M. (2016). Skeletal muscle and resistance exercise training; the role of protein synthesis in recovery and remodelling. Journal of Applied Physiology, , jap.00613.2016. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00613.2016
3. Antonio, J., Ellerbroek, A., Silver, T., Vargas, L., Tamayo, A., Buehn, R., & Peacock, C. A. (2016). A high protein diet has no harmful effects: A one-year crossover study in resistance-trained males. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2016, 1-5. doi:10.1155/2016/9104792
4. Deutz, N. E. P., Bauer, J. M., Barazzoni, R., Biolo, G., Boirie, Y., Bosy-Westphal, A., . . . Institutionen för folkhälso- och vårdvetenskap. (2014). Protein intake and exercise for optimal muscle function with aging: Recommendations from the ESPEN expert group. Clinical Nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland), 33(6), 929-936. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2014.04.007
5. Macnaughton, L. S., Wardle, S. L., Witard, O. C., McGlory, C., Hamilton, D. L., Jeromson, S., . . . Tipton, K. D. (2016). The response of muscle protein synthesis following whole‐body resistance exercise is greater following 40 g than 20 g of ingested whey protein. Physiological Reports, 4(15), np-n/a. doi:10.14814/phy2.12893
6. Phillips, S. M. (2016). The impact of protein quality on the promotion of resistance exercise-induced changes in muscle mass. Nutrition & Metabolism, 13(1) doi:10.1186/s12986-016-0124-8
7. Acheson, K. J., Blondel-Lubrano, A., Oguey-Araymon, S., Beaumont, M., Emady-Azar, S., Ammon-Zufferey, C., . . . Bovetto, L. (2011). Protein choices targeting thermogenesis and metabolism. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 93(3), 525-534. doi:10.3945/ajcn.110.005850