If you have some knowledge of exercise nutrition, you’ll know that protein is an important part of it. Whether it’s a protein shake, meal prep, or a home-cooked meal, you may feel that you need to down the shake or scoff your food immediately after finishing your workout.
Whilst nutrition soon after exercise is crucial for recovery and adaptation, this article dispels some of the myths.
Post-Exercise Protein – What We Know
Protein ingestion post-exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis (MPS), and ultimately the growth and repair of tissues. Whey protein is one of the most digestible high-quality proteins available – hence its inclusion in many supplements. It is absorbed quickly, making it a great post-workout choice. A ranking of the bioavailability of proteins (how much can be absorbed) is below. At the top we have whey and casein, closely followed by egg protein, soy, and beef. Ingestion of whey and casein has been shown to increase MPS, with greater effects from whey (Burd et al., 2012).
Casein is a slow-releasing protein, and can be taken before bed to increase MPS overnight. This can also appear in supplements, or in foods such as milk, cheese, and cottage cheese. Casein makes up around 80% of milk, the other 20% being whey. If you’re parents or grandparents ever told you to drink a glass of warm milk before bed, they may be onto something!
Nonsense, Nuances, and the Unknown
A common misconception is that you must glug your protein shake straight after exercise, as if protein fuses to your muscles, making you bigger and stronger immediately. Not true.
Protein ingestion after exercise IS IMPORTANT and can enhance recovery, increase muscle glycogen stores and more – but it’s effect on adaptation post-resistance training is less definitive due to the lack of research asking this question (Ivy and Schoenfeld, 2014).
The ‘anabolic window’ – the idea of a period after exercise where MPS is heightened and protein is a ‘must’ – has been somewhat exaggerated. Regular protein intake is key.
Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a popular ingredient. As discussed in a previous article, BCAAs are not made by the body. These are: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Their inclusion in supplements is often justified by the theory that these essential AAs are tougher to obtain through diet alone and may have more value in promoting MPS. Whilst BCAAs should be ingested, supplements are not necessary - consuming whole proteins through the diet is likely just as beneficial.
Leucine is an amino acid responsible for anabolic signalling in muscle (i.e. muscle building) and is found in many animal meats and other sources.
Studies have suggested 3 g supplementation maximises the anabolic response (Norton and Wilson, 2009). Good news if you like meat. If you are vegetarian, soy protein and soybean excellent sources.
Vegetarian or not, you can obtain the full spectrum of proteins by eating various sources as part of a balanced diet. See your dietitian about this.
So protein timing is important, but so is taking in adequate amounts throughout the day or with each meal. Try to vary your sources to get the best out of each protein source, ensuring that you are taking in the full spectrum of BCAA's to support recovery.
For youth athletes on the go - why not try PROTEEN® to top up your protein after intense training.
Burd, N. et al. (2012). Greater stimulation of myofibrillar protein synthesis with ingestion of whey protein isolate v. micellar casein at rest and after resistance exercise in elderly men. British Journal of Nutrition, 108 (6), 958-962.
Norton, L. E., & Wilson, G. J. (2009). Optimal protein intake to maximize muscle protein synthesis - examinations of optimal meal protein intake and frequency for athletes. AgroFood industry hi-tech. 20 (2).
Ivy, J. L. and Schoenfeld, B. (2014). The Timing of Post exercise Protein Ingestion Is/Is Not Important. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 36 (6), 51-55.