Regardless of your fitness goals, fueling your body with the right nutrients is key, especially if you don't want to compromise your results. And if you're supplementing with protein powder, the timing of when you eat your first meal after a protein shake can make a difference in your recovery.
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You can eat a meal with your protein shake or shortly after that. Just make sure to consume protein, carbohydrates and some fat within one to two hours after working out.
Meal After Protein Shake
When you've exercised hard, your first meal after a protein shake should be whole-foods based and consumed with your shake or shortly after that. In fact, depending on the intensity of your workout, you can even eat a meal with your protein shake, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). That's because your body craves and needs more calories after expending extra energy.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, having a snack or meal within one hour of finishing your workout, regardless of the type of physical activity, is key to optimal recovery. This is even more important if your workout is intense or particularly tough that day. This fuel can be a recovery drink or meal, or a snack with carbohydrates, protein and a healthy fat.
Since the goal of post-workout nutrition, says ACE, is to eat the right combination of foods to help you recover, rehydrate, refuel, build muscle and improve future performance, having food after a protein shake is critical to get the extra nutrients you need. Therefore, even if you drink a protein shake post-workout, you should still plan on eating a well-balanced meal containing a variety of whole foods and plenty of fluids.
And if dropping a few pounds is the goal, there is not necessarily a best time to drink a protein shake for weight loss. Consuming enough protein throughout the day, while still making sure you get an adequate amount after a workout, is the overall goal when it comes to losing weight.
Macronutrients After Exercise
A combination of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fat is the recommended mix of nutrients to eat after a workout. The carbohydrates continue to help you replace glycogen and the protein assists with repair and recovery.
That said, if you're going to have food after a protein shake, make sure to factor in the protein in both meals. For example, if your shake has 20 grams of protein and you eat a meal an hour later, you don't need to include as much protein in that meal.
To get a better idea of the amount of protein you need each day, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says you can follow the recommended dietary allowance for an average adult, which is 0.37 grams per pound of body weight. However, this does not necessarily factor in activity levels. Which means, the recommended allowance may not be enough, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
If you participate in endurance exercise or lift weights, they suggest eating a range of 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Further, the ACSM suggests 0.5 to 0.7 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight and the carb to protein ratio for low-to medium-intensity workouts should be 2:1 or 3:1 if the workout was long and high-intensity.
Read more: The Best 9 Post-Workout Foods
What to Eat After Exercise
In order to properly fuel your body within an hour or so after intense exercise, you need to have some meal ideas ready to go. Prepping food ahead of time and having it portioned out and in containers can help save you time, especially when your stomach is screaming for food.
When choosing and prepping your post-workout food, remember that you are eating a meal after a protein shake. So, make sure to account for the extra protein in your shake when you decide on a post-workout meal. Here are a few to get you started.
- Turkey on a whole-grain wrap with veggies and 1 cup of fruit
- Low-fat Greek yogurt with 1/2 cup of berries
- Stir fry with grilled chicken, vegetables and brown rice
- Breakfast burrito: 1 tortilla, 1 whole egg and 2 egg whites scrambled, chopped vegetables, 1/4 cup of black beans mixed together and wrapped in the tortilla
- Protein pancakes topped with fresh fruit: 1 cup pancake mix, 1 cup 1% or 2% organic milk or low/no sugar almond milk, 2 eggs, 1 scoop protein powder. Mix all the ingredients together with a beater or electric mixer and use a griddle or pan to cook.
- American Council on Exercise: "Meal Timing: What and When to Eat for Performance and Recovery"
- American College of Sports Medicine: "What to Eat Before, During, and After Exercise"
- American College of Sports Medicine: "Protein Intake for Optimal Muscle Maintenance"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "4 Keys to Strength Building and Muscle Mass"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Eating for Strength and Recovery"