When you've got #bodygoals you want to reach ASAP, knowing how much protein you need is key to slaying it. But when it comes to post-workout protein — well, it's complicated.
Some experts say it doesn't matter when you eat protein, as long as you get enough throughout the day, while others say there's a proper amount and window of time in which to get it.
Women should aim to get about 0.25 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight after a workout.
Importance of Post-Workout Protein
Dietary protein contains amino acids, the building blocks of the protein that makes up muscle tissue. There are 20 amino acids in total, nine of which are called "essential." Your body can't produce these, so it's essential you get them from your diet. According to MedlinePlus, the nine essential amino acids are:
The body makes the nonessential amino acids, including:
- Aspartic acid
- Glutamic acid
After you consume a protein food, your body breaks it down into smaller and smaller parts, until it has extracted all the amino acids it needs. It then sends these amino acids throughout the body where they are needed, either to build muscle, construct genetic material or produce energy — just a few of the physiological processes in which amino acids and protein are involved.
So, if you want to kick ass and take names, you need to get enough amino acids and protein. Whether or not it makes a difference exactly when you get them is still not crystal clear.
All About Nutrient Timing
Nutrient timing is the concept that, what you eat and when you eat it, before, during and after exercise, will make a difference in your performance and results. The traditional theory is that there is an "anabolic window" — a period of time just following activity in which your body is able to use nutrients to optimize training adaptations.
According to a review article published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) in January 2013, it's widely thought that consuming the correct proportions of nutrients during this time supercharges the body's ability to restore damaged muscle tissue and depleted energy reserves to optimally enhance body composition and exercise performance.
In its position stand on nutrient timing published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in August 2017, the ISSN recommends consuming high-quality protein within two hours of a workout to stimulate the greatest muscle protein synthesis, called MPS.
Other experts say it's more effective if it's consumed even sooner. According to registered sports dietitian and strength and conditioning coach Justin Robinson, the anabolic window is 30 to 60 minutes post-workout, and registered dietitian Christopher R. Mohr, Ph.D., of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that you should try to eat within 15 minutes of an intense workout.
Protein Before and After
If in fact this window of opportunity is so brief, it may be more effective to consume protein before or during your workout, rather than after. According to Robinson, protein digests slowly, and it takes up to three hours for amino acid blood levels to peak.
Therefore, if you ingest protein after your workout, you may miss the anabolic window altogether. Robinson suggests it may be more effective to consume protein two to three hours before your workout ends.
But how about before and after? Why not cover all your bases? That's likely why ISSN recommended, in its position stand on protein and exercise published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in June 2017, getting a steady dose of protein throughout the day to maintain amino acid blood levels for the duration of MPS.
According to ISSN, your daily protein needs should be distributed equally across the day, every three to four hours. Therefore, if you eat protein two to three hours before the end of your workout, that's perfect timing to get another dose of protein within an hour or two after finishing your sweat session.
How Much You Need
Regardless of whether you eat protein two hours before your workout, or 15 minutes to two hours after your workout, all experts agree that the most important thing is to get enough protein each day. The dietary reference intake for protein for the general population determined by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies of Medicine is 46 grams for women. This is based on 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight for the average woman.
But 46 grams is not going to be enough for people who exercise regularly. If you're hitting it hard in the gym five or six days a week, you're going to need even more. And, protein intake for female bodybuilders is considerably higher.
According to ISSN's position stand, healthy, exercising individuals need between 1.4 and 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If you weigh 145 pounds, that means you need 92 to 132 grams of protein each day — two to three times the RDI. Ideal protein intake for female bodybuilders is 2.3 to 3.1 grams per kilogram, according to a research review published in May 2014 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Ideal Protein Intake
According to ISSN, recommendations for how much protein you need at one time to optimize MPS depends on age and the recent resistance exercise stimuli. Older people may need more protein than younger people to stimulate muscle growth. More intense exercise causes more muscle damage; therefore protein needs may be higher to meet recovery demands.
Generally, ISSN says women and men should aim for 0.25 grams of high-quality protein per kilogram of body weight, or 20 to 40 grams in one dose. These doses should be consumed frequently enough throughout the day to meet your total daily protein needs.
While there isn't yet a scientific consensus on whether or not protein timing affects recovery and performance significantly, mildly or not at all, it can't hurt to ensure proper protein intake during the period before and after your workout.
Even if you don't get the perfect amount of protein at each meal, or you don't get your meals evenly spaced during the rest of the day, your best bet is to at least be sure to consume a protein-rich meal or snack within a couple hours of your workout, and another protein and carb-rich meal or snack within two hours after your workout.
And, be sure this protein snack also includes a quality source of carbohydrates. Carbs, in combination with protein, increase the production of insulin, a hormone that is necessary for optimal uptake of the amino acids from protein.
- MedlinePlus: "Amino Acids"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "Nutrient Timing Revisited: Is There a Post-Exercise Anabolic Window?"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise"
- ACE: "What You Need to Know About Nutrient Timing"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Nutrient Timing"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Timing Your Pre- and Post-Workout Nutrition"
- National Academies of Medicine: "Summary Tables, Dietary Reference Intakes"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "Evidence-Based Recommendations for Natural Bodybuilding Contest Preparation: Nutrition and Supplementation"
- Journal of Nutrition: "Muscle Protein Synthesis and Muscle Mass in Healthy Older Men"