According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, or ISSN, protein helps the body build muscle, helps muscles replenish energy stores after intense bouts of exercise, and helps keep the body from breaking down existing muscle and bone. Milk, yogurt and protein shakes all provide this nutrient. Which type you choose depends on your personal preference regarding taste, calories, convenience and cost.
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The ISSN recommends that active people try to get their protein through whole foods sources like milk and yogurt, but if they do choose to use supplements like protein powders, that they look for products with both whey and casein—both derived from milk—because this type of protein appears to be easier for the body to absorb and use for building muscles.
In 2007, Joseph Hartman and others published research results in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” showing that drinking liquid milk after weightlifting was effective in helping young males build muscle. Another review in “Nutrition and Metabolism” in 2010 argued that whey protein worked best.
Most protein powders are made of whey and casein, both of which come from milk. The powders offer a concentrated form of milk protein, providing about three or four times as much protein as a glass of milk or cup of yogurt. However, they do not contain the other nutrients found in milk, like calcium and vitamin D. Because of the high protein value, a shake will have several times more calories than a serving of milk or yogurt. Both flavored yogurts and shakes can also contain either added sugar or artificial sweeteners.
If milk or yogurt is your post-workout protein snack of choice, you will probably have to pack and take it with you in a cooler.
Your gym might sell bottled premixed protein shakes. If they do, be sure to read the nutritional label and understand exactly what’s in that beverage. Many drinks contain sugar, caffeine and herbal additives. There is no conclusive research indicating that the extras help muscle recovery or development, but they might upset your stomach or interfere with your body’s ability to absorb the fluids and protein it needs.
Gyms with a juice stand provide you with a convenient option to pick up a freshly blended protein shake right after your workout, which is the best time to refuel. Just be sure you know exactly what’s going into your shake.
At a dollar or less per serving, milk and yogurt are the low-cost leaders for post-workout refueling.
Bottled and freshly blended protein shakes cost about four dollars each. Bulk containers of protein powders are more cost-effective than individual shakes, but those big tubs still carry a hefty price tag.
Until a clear answer emerges about the optimal blend of nutrients, use the option that works best for you, while always keeping a watchful eye on ingredient lists and nutritional information.