Women who exercise regularly need more protein than those who aren't active, especially if they have a goal to build muscle mass. As you work out and recover, your muscles constantly sustain damage and repair, which is a process called muscle protein synthesis. Your body requires high-quality dietary protein to complete that process, and some research suggests that having it right after exercise produces better results.
High Protein Intake for Women
Women may have an even greater need than men to consume adequate protein after resistance training, according to a 2006 article published in the "British Journal of Sports Medicine." The researchers recommend that women should consume protein supplements, such as whey or casein shakes, because having a high intake of protein has been associated with better blood cholesterol, stable blood-sugar levels, and better maintenance and gain of lean muscle mass.
Benefits of Whey
Most protein shakes are made from whey protein concentrate or whey protein isolate. Although whole foods offer greater nutrient value than isolated whey, women athletes who already eat a wide range of proteins may experience greater benefits by drinking whey shakes after their workouts. Whey is superior to both casein and milk -- the other primary dairy sources of protein -- because it's easier for the body to digest, contains all the amino acids required for muscle protein synthesis and stimulates that process more rapidly, according to a 2012 article published in the "Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition."
Protein Gets Results
At least one study suggests that women who drink protein after exercise will experience better physical results than women who consume protein at other times of the day. In the 2012 article in the "Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition," researchers cited a study in which women who exercised and then drank a beverage that contained whey and casein enjoyed greater strength gains and greater losses in body fat than women who drank a placebo. The study was conducted with milk rather than with pre-mixed protein shakes, so women who desire similar results may want to mix their protein powder with fat-free or low-fat milk.
Although shakes have been proven to help stimulate muscle growth and strength gains, they don't act alone. Women who primarily take part in endurance exercise rather than strength training aren't likely to experience the same muscular benefits, since loading challenge is what initially stimulates the muscle recovery process. Also, as the milk study demonstrates, women can get positive fitness gains following workouts by seeking whole food sources of protein; the benefits aren't limited to shakes. Additionally, before you add shakes to your diet or make any major changes to your regular eating plan, speak with your doctor.
- Rice University: Protein Requirements for Athletes
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: Nutritional Aspects of Women Strength Athletes
- M.D. Anderson Cancer Center: Whole Foods or Supplements?
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: Protein Timing and Its Effects on Muscular Hypertrophy and Strength in Individuals Engaged in Weight Training