By Stepfanie Romine
Protein is essential, especially when you're an athlete looking to build muscle. Despite its pervasiveness, this macronutrient seems to elicit a lot of questions: Why is protein important? How should you consume it? And how many grams of protein do you need after a workout?
“Research suggests that consuming protein post-workout can help optimize gains and muscle recovery," says Trevor Thieme, CSCS, director of fitness and nutrition content at Openfit.
Let's answer more of the common questions about protein.
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It all comes down to amino acids, the building blocks of protein.
“Protein's main function is tissue recovery and repair," says Samantha Coogan, MS, RD, the director of the didactic program in nutrition and dietetics at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
Strength training causes microscopic damage to your muscles. “In turn, the body needs to recover and repair that torn tissue," explains Coogan. With the help of protein, your body “will produce fuller, denser muscle."
Essentially, after a hard workout, your body needs more amino acids (a.k.a. protein) to recover optimally. Skimp on protein, and your tissues and muscles won't have the building blocks they need to help repair themselves as efficiently or effectively.
How Many Grams of Protein Do You Need After a Workout?
On a daily basis, you should consume a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. However, depending on your activity level and the intensity of your workouts, that number can jump to 1.4 or 2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.
Ideally, most of your protein intake should come from whole foods. But protein supplements, such as LADDER Whey and Plant Protein, make it easy to get your post-workout protein and meet your daily protein requirements throughout the day.
Drinking a protein shake within 30 minutes of a workout is a good idea (and perhaps the “best" time to drink one), to ensure your muscles have the amino acids they need.
Protein has an anabolic (muscle-building) effect after exercise, says Coogan, but she cautions that “the 'anabolic window' is somewhat of a myth." Food can fuel your muscles for up to a few hours post-workout, so the new rules of protein timing give you a little more leeway.
Focus on consuming protein after a workout, but also keep an eye on your overall intake at each meal and snack, as well as the quality of your protein source.
Yes, your muscles need protein after an all-out workout, but don't forget about carbohydrates.
“Carbs are also necessary for muscle hypertrophy," Coogan reminds us. “It's not all just about protein."
Use your appetite and GI tract as your guide — “oftentimes, higher-intensity activity reduces your appetite" for a while, Coogan says.
“If you're looking to maintain or put on muscle, having complex carbs in your diet may be very necessary, since carbs are what's necessary to replenish your glycogen stores, contributing to power input and stamina," she explains.
What should you eat? That'll depend on your activity. You'll need more carbs if you've done a long run or bike ride (versus a strength-training or HIIT session).
Opt for whole foods when you can, but research shows that “protein supplements remain a convenient, complementary nutritional strategy for physically active adults to meet protein recommendations."
If you prefer to eat whole foods after a workout, Coogan suggests:
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.