If you’re looking to optimise your recovery and muscle growth, post-workout nutrition is absolutely vital. Specifically, high quality proteins should be taken in during the ‘anabolic window’ to ensure that your muscles are bathed in the amino acids they need to begin repairing and rebuilding – this is what grows muscle. Even for athletes who aren’t looking to gain muscle but just recover for their next workout, post-workout protein is ideal to help speed recovery. But what is the ideal post-workout protein powder to use?
Why You Need Post-Workout Protein
If you look hard enough, you’ll see arguments on almost every single topic relating to health and fitness from ‘experts’ who have completely opposing views. Some say high carb, some low carb; some promote cardio, some don’t; and some think squatting is the holy grail, others that it’s the worst exercise you can do for your joints. A topic that has relatively little argument relates to the role of protein in building muscle and recovery, and specifically post-workout protein.
During your exercise, whether it’s aerobic, calisthenics, weight-based or sports-specific, your muscles are put under larger amounts of stress than usual. To be able to cope with the running/lifting/direction-changing etc., your body needs to engage high amounts of muscle fibres to perform the tasks. This causes microscopic tears in the muscle fibres, and these tears build up steadily throughout your performance or workout. You’ll experience muscle soreness commonly after a taxing workout due in large part to muscle damage caused during the workout.
The good news is that your body knows exactly how to heal the damage – it’s in-built into our body’s functions. It just needs the tools to do so. For this reason, it’s almost universally-agreed that athletes need a larger protein intake than non-athletes. Specifically in the minutes and hours after your workout is when your body is most apt to deal with the muscle damage – so this is when you need to provide the building blocks for repair and growth – protein.
Whole Food vs Protein Powders
There’s no doubt that whole food is the better choice over protein supplements for almost every time throughout the day. Our bodies are made to utilise the nutrients from whole food, particularly from meats and vegetables, and deliver these nutrients to where they’re needed. We’ve done this for thousands of years. In the post-workout window – from approximately 0 min – 120 min after the end of your workout – you need to ensure that your body has adequate amino acids from protein sources to be able to begin the repair process. Where protein powders have the edge over whole foods here, is in digestion time. If you eat a meal the minute you finish your workout, you’re still going to be digesting that meal hours later (obviously depending on the size and contents of the meal). When compared to a protein powder made from hydrolysed whey, for example, it could take 2-3 times as long to digest the whole food meal as it did your protein shake. While most health and fitness experts recommend whole foods over supplements, it’s the post-workout time when many of them sway from that recommendation, and believe a protein shake is ideal.
Whey, Casein or a Blend for Post-Workout?
There’s been plenty of argument on this topic – whether to include whey protein, casein protein or a combination of the two in your post-workout shake. While whey is usually fast-digesting, and casein usually slow-digesting, there have been arguments for including each separately and together in your post-workout shake. Whey protein will deliver amino acids quickly to the blood stream, particularly if you’re using a whey isolate or hydrolysed whey isolate source. This means that amino acids, and particularly branched chain amino acids, are repairing muscle tissue rapidly. Casein protein, on the other hand, takes several hours to fully digest. While this seems counter-intuitive to your needs post-workout, studies have shown that casein proteins have done an excellent job of rebuilding muscle tissue as well. What we like, though, is a combination of the two – whey and casein. The whey protein sources will be digested quickly, beginning the repair process, while the casein will steadily ‘drip-feed’ amino acids so that your body is constantly supplied with the tools to repair itself.
Post-Workout Protein Choices
Whether you prefer whey-based, casein-based or a combination of both, there is a protein powder to suit your needs. Be sure to think about your own specific needs, and whether a supplement with carbohydrates, creatine or even joint-support ingredients would be beneficial to you.
Here are our recommendations for Post-Workout Proteins:
- Protein King Pure WPI – developed only with the highest quality whey protein isolate for superior and rapid digestion.
- Dymatize ISO 100 – another high quality whey isolate with hydrolysed whey protein.
- Optimum Nutrition 100% Gold Standard Casein – a high quality casein blend.
- International Protein M-Casein – uses only micellar casein – this is widely regarded as the best casein money can buy,
Whey + Casein:
- MusclePharm Combat Powder – a blend of five different protein sources plus added amino acids.
- JYM Pro JYM – another excellent whey, casein and egg blend.
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