Should I Have a Protein Shake & a Whole Meal After My Workout?

Proper nutrition is important if you want to reap the maximum benefits of your workouts. Food serves as an energy source to fuel your physical activities and also helps with post-workout muscle recovery and muscle growth. Experts agree that protein and carbohydrates are an important part of post-workout nutriton. However, consuming a protein shake and a whole meal post-workout may not always be necessary. Assessment of each exercise session can help you determine the amount of recovery nutrition needed in relation to your workout.


Intense Exercise Recovery Nutrition

The Gatorade Sports Science Institute reports that intense bouts of exercise should immediately be followed by proper nutrition within 15 minutes of exercise completion. It is recommended that you consume 50 to 100 grams of carbohydrates and 10 to 20 grams of protein. According to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, consumption of carbohydrates and protein should continue every 2 hours until your next full meal to help facilitate muscle glycogen recovery. In this case, a protein shake and a small carbohydrate snack would suffice.


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Nutrient Timing based on Frequency of Exercise

According to the American Dietetic Association, post-workout nutrition should be based on the intensity and duration of the workout and when the next session will occur. Individuals who train often may need to replenish immediately in order to maximize recovery efforts and prepare for the next exercise session. Those who train only occasionally do not need to focus as much on the composition and timing of the post-exercise meal, as they will have more time to recover.


High-Quality Protein Choices

A protein containing essential amino acids, whether supplemental or in real food form, is recommended for best results. Some real food protein choices include chicken breasts, nuts and turkey breasts. Supplemental protein choices include protein bars, whey protein powder, soy protein powder and casein protein powder. One scoop of powder usually contains 20 to 30 grams of protein and is often mixed with water, milk or juice.


Post-Workout Snack and Meal Ideas

According to the USA Triathlon website, consuming a light meal or snack after exercise will keep you strong and help fuel future workouts. The USA Triathlon offers post-workout recovery food ideas that include a banana with almond butter, low-fat yogurt with whole grain cereal or a whole wheat English muffin with sliced turkey breast. If solid foods tend to upset your stomach post-workout, you may want to consume a fresh fruit and yogurt smoothie beverage instead.


Water Consumption

In addition to consumption of protein and carbohydrates, it is also important to remain hydrated and replace any water weight loss during your workout. Doing so will help prevent dehydration and help you perform your best. When exercising, consume 4 to 8 oz. of liquid every 15 to 20 minutes. For every pound of weight lost post-workout, consume 20 oz. of fluid. If your workout lasted longer than 60 minutes, it is best to consume a sports drink to replace lost electrolytes.



Each individual's body reacts differently when it comes to food consumption, so you may want to experiment with portion sizes and the timing of your meals around your workout. The American Council on Exercise reports that pre-workout and post-workout meals are equally important. The key is to make sure you are consuming small meals containing both protein and carbohydrates. Large meals should be reserved for 3 to 4 hours before exercise or after 2 hours have passed post-workout.




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