Do you really need to drink a protein shake after a workout?
Working out and protein powder go together like peanut butter and jelly.
A tough sweat session equals re-fuel power with some chocolate, vanilla or cookies and cream goodness.
At least that’s what most sports nutrition advice tells us right?
Do you really need to drink a protein shake after a workout?
That’s what most sports nutrition articles tell us.
For instance, one article from BodyBuilding.com says this:
“Because solid food takes more time to digest and to break down the protein and send it to the muscles, it can be best to take a protein shake immediately following a workout, since protein shakes only take about 30 minutes to reach the muscle after ingestion.”
Truth or myth?
The real truth?
Research doesn’t actually prove that it works—or doesn’t work, for that matter.
Get this: HALF of all long-term studies say protein timing has an effect and the other HALF say…it doesn’t.
Here are 6 questions to ask when deciding whether or not protein powder is for you.
How’s my digestion?
Absorption of the protein is only as good as your digestion. If your digestion and gut health is compromised, you won’t reap the benefits of any supplement (or food) for that matter, regardless of how “good” it is for you or not. Signs of poor digestion include: Constipation, GERD, bloating, gas after meals, frequent headaches, acne and skin breakouts, low immunity, allergies and brittle nails and hair. Many protein powders on the market contribute to poor gut health due to the chemicals and additives in them (see below).
In addition, more important than gulping a shake or shoveling food down the hatch, your body must be ready to digest your food. Optimal digestion happens in the “rest and digest” state—relaxed. Since working out elevates stress levels, your cortisol (stress hormone) needs time to simmer down post-workout. The most crucial step after a tough sweat sesh is coming back to a parasympathetic (relaxed) mode, taking a few deep breaths and drinking some water prior to a shake or meal.
How do I feel?
If you’re running to the bathroom, bloated, or gassy post-workout shake, chances are you’re not digesting that shake super well (nor is it making you feel great). Aside from digestive discomfort, other common side effects from some protein powders include headaches, shortness of breath, and blurred vision—to name a few. Sure, the label may say “high in protein” or “lean muscle” or “no sugar,” but regardless of how “healthy” something is…how do you feel and how does your body respond.
What’s in the powder?
The ingredient labels on many protein powders in natural food stores list tons of chemicals and additives (with names you can’t even pronounce). And, if you don’t know what something is, chances are…your body doesn’t either. Unfortunately, many protein supplements and bars are cleverly marketed candy for adults with names like “chocolate fudge,” “cookies and cream” and “banana split.” Food additives, sugar, artificial sweeteners and other chemicals in our food are a leading stressor of poor gut health (see point 1), as well as inflammation and disease (cancer, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc.). Check out this hit list below of some popular additives and ingredients to watch out for in many protein powders:
- Cellulose Gum.
What it is: A thickening agent used to add bulk and texture in all kinds of food products (like beer foam, icing, jelly, pie-fillings, and low-calorie packaged foods such as fat-free ice cream and low-fat cookies); Also found in toothpaste, pharmaceuticals, and household products.
Side Effects: May cause flatulence, diarrhea, and cramping; The body does not digest it; Decreases nutritive value of other foods you eat
- Acesulfame Potassium (Aspartame).
What it is: An artificial sweetener found in: “diet,” “no sugar added,” “sugar-free,” and other products, including soft drinks, drink mixes, baked goods, gelatin desserts, frozen desserts, yogurt, candy, chewing gum, packaged (tabletop) sweeteners.Side Effects: Headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver effects, kidney effects, visual disturbances and cancer. Studies link to tumors and elevated blood level of cholesterol.
- Corn Syrup Solids (Corn Syrup Solids, Corn Sugar, Dextrose, Glucose, Glucose Syrup, Dextrose Syrup, Crystalline Fructose)
What it is: An additive made from the starch of corn, composed mainly of sugar (99.5 percent pure fructose — a fructose level twice as high as regular High Fructose Corn Syrup). Used as a sweetener, thickener, and prevents processed foods from drying out.Side Effects: High (bad) cholesterol; Liver damage; Gout; Nutrient deficiencies; Insulin resistance, may also contain arsenic, lead, chloride and heavy metals.
- Inulin (Soy Lecithin, Hydroxylated Lecithin)
What it is: A soluble fiber that replaceS sugar, fat, and flour in many foods; Inulin can mimic the creaminess and mouthfeel of fat.Side Effects:
Not digested and passes through much of the digestive system intact. Foods containing inulin may cause gas, bloating, and gastrointestinal discomfort.
- Lecithin (Soy)
What it is: Extracted from eggs, soybeans, sunflower oil, or corn. Used as an emulsifier (to help keep oils and water from separating); Found in chocolate products, baked goods, frozen desserts, margarine, lard, cereal, candy, and non-stick cooking spray.Side Effects: Gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea, bloating, stomach pain, loss of appetite, and nausea; along with some reported dizziness, lowered blood pressure, & blurred vision.
- Artificial Flavors: Artificial meaning fake, not natural and a cheap human imitation.
What it is: There are over 1,000 synthetic flavorings found in thousands of man-made foods, including: beverages, snack foods, desserts, baked goods, crackers, ice cream, frozen meals, cookies, chips, alcoholic beverages, flavor powder and protein.Side Effects: While there are hundreds of health risks involved with these chemicals, here are a few:
- brain tumors
- mental confusion
- DNA damage
- anxiety attacks
- kidney problems
- high blood pressure
For more information on popular additives and chemicals (in your own powder), visit Be Food Smart to find out the real scoop on what’s in it and any side effects.
Am I timing it right?
If you’re stuck on the “30-minute” window rule (the rule that says that you must eat something within 30-minutes of training for results), think again. Your body does NOT think of workouts OR meal timing like you do. For example:
- You know you went to spin class, but your body thinks you were running from a bear.
- Or, you know you deadlifted a 200 lbs. barbell in the gym, however your body simply thinks you were lifting heavy logs.
- Or you know it’s breakfast time, but all your body thinks is: “It’s been a while since I’ve eaten. I am ready to grub up for meal 1.”
Your body is NOT as scripted as you are with your workouts or food.
In terms of the post-workout window, as long as you are eating something (about 1-2 hours post-training) to replenish and recover, and eating enough throughout the day, the 30-minute window really means nothing. (p.s. If a meal is not on the horizon anytime soon, a protein shake or snack could be the perfect thing to have after training).
What did I eat today?
Your macronutrient balance and energy intake for an entire day matters more than whether or not you drank a protein shake after a workout. Are you eating a balance of protein, carbs and healthy fats throughout the day to support your body’s needs and health overall? How much do you need anyhow? If not, or you’re not sure, schedule a free consult to get a customized nutrition plan.
Is it worth it?
If you’ve ever bought or shopped for a protein powder, you know they are not cheap—at least if you want a quality And in supplement world, you often get what you paid for (just like a Whataburger is different from grass-fed bison burger). All things considered, if pinching pennies is important to you, consider using protein powder occasionally, but reaching for real food sources of protein the majority of the time.
Thrive’s Protein Powder Picks
If you are looking for a quality powder to add to your repoittoire, consider one of these: