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Consuming protein after a workout helps with muscular repair and growth. Both strength-training and endurance athletes benefit from a protein-rich snack post-exercise. The amount, type and timing of your protein intake influence your ability to perform well in your next session and maximize the benefits of your efforts.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition states that protein needs for athletes are greater than the needs for more sedentary individuals. For every pound of body weight, an athlete should strive to consume between 0.64 to 0.9 grams of protein daily. Endurance athletes, such as marathon runners and cyclists, should aim for the lower range of this scale, while strength-training athletes, such as power lifters and bodybuilders, should aim for the higher range.
Consuming carbohydrates after a workout can help you refill your glycogen - or energy - stores. Protein does not help much with energy, but it does help create enzymes, hormones, lipoproteins, muscle tissue, connective tissue, red blood cells and immune-system cells, explains endurance coach Chris Carmichael in his book вЂњFood for Fitness.вЂќ When you exercise, you put stress on these systems and they need protein to help them repair, recover and grow. Right after a workout, your body is particularly receptive to utilizing amino acids - the building blocks of protein.
Consuming protein immediately after strength training also ensures your body has a consistently positive amount of protein, which the muscles use to grow larger and stronger. A study published in the Aug. 11, 2001 issue of the вЂњJournal of PhysiologyвЂќ found that, after 12 weeks, elderly adults consuming just 10 grams of protein immediately after a resistance training workout experienced a greater increase in muscle mass and strength than those who consumed the protein two hours post workout. Nancy Clark, a sports nutritionist and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, notes that protein intake post-exercise can also help reduce cortisol production, a stress hormone that can break down muscle.
Timing and Type
Consume protein as close to the end of your workout as possible - within 15 minutes should be your goal, registered dietitian Leslie Bonci, a runner and director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told "Running Times" magazine in 2009. The longer you delay, the less benefit you get from the amino acids. If getting the protein within 10 to 15 minutes isn't feasible, try to consume protein before 30 minutes has elapsed since your workout. Choose an easily digested and absorbed protein for this window. Whey protein, which is rich in branched-chain amino acids that are particularly valuable for muscle repair and growth, is a good choice. You can mix it with water or into a smoothie, making it convenient and palatable when you may be too tired to eat solid food.
Some post-workout protein supplements boast up to 60 grams of protein per serving -- far more than you actually need. A study in the September 2009 issue of the вЂњJournal of the American Dietetic AssociationвЂќ found that your body can only utilize 30 grams of protein per sitting for muscle synthesis. Endurance athletes should go for just 10 to 15 grams post workout and benefit from combining their protein with carbohydrates for complete recovery. Aim for a three-to-one or four-to-one carbohydrate-to-protein ratio. Strength-training athletes generally benefit from 25 to 30 grams of protein after a workout.