Protein shakes seem like the perfect end to a workout. What could be better than hitting the gym, working up a sweat, and coming home to refuel in a healthy way?
Getting enough protein after a workout is important to help your muscles rebuild and grow. But it’s important to think about what’s in your shake and whether you really need the extra protein before you whip one up. And, if you decide that you should have the extra protein, it can be hard to know where to begin with so many different protein-supplement options at any health or grocery store.
So here is a list of some post-workout protein dos and don’ts to help you decide how to refuel.
Do: Think about what’s in your protein shake
The best post-workout recovery snacks are high in protein and carbohydrates, according to the American Council on Exercise. The carbohydrates help restore some of the energy you lost during your workout, and the protein helps rebuild muscle.
The Council recommends non-fat Greek yogurt as a good protein source and bananas and low-fat chocolate milk as ways to get good carbs. A little bit of nut butter can provide some healthy fat as well.
Try making your protein-powder shake with some of these ingredients for a yummy, healthy treat. Or, if you want to keep it simple, add your protein powder to milk instead of water to get some good carbs with your protein.
Don’t: Have a protein shake if you haven’t worked up a sweat
Protein shakes are most helpful if you’ve burned muscle and used up your blood sugar. If your workouts tend to consist of a walk around the block or light weight lifting for a short amount of time, rather than high-intensity or longer workouts, you might not need a high dose of protein – or the calories that can come with the shake, according to the American Council on Exercise.
It’s important to think about the calories you’re burning versus the calories you’re consuming, the Council points out. It’s OK to have a healthy post-workout snack, but if you aren’t working up a sweat, getting your heart rate up, or getting out of breath, you should be careful not to have too many calories after your workout.
Do: Think about when to have your shake and how much protein to put in it
Protein supplements are most effective when taken as soon as possible after exercising, according to a 2014 journal article by Luc van Loon, a professor in the department of movement sciences at Maastrict University in the Netherlands. But some researchers have found that having a protein shake before or during your workout can also help rebuild your muscles afterward, according to van Loon.
It is equally important not to take too much protein, according to an article published in a National Strength and Conditioning Association journal. Too much protein over the course of the day can cause problems for your kidneys and liver, and might cause you to become dehydrated, among other problems, according to the article. You can find the daily amount of protein recommended for you on the Centers for Disease Control website.
Don’t: Rely on protein shakes for weight loss
Protein supplements, while helpful for rebuilding your muscle, can also have a lot of calories. Two scoops of protein powder can add up to 300 calories to your daily diet, according to the Mayo Clinic. Protein bars and ready-made drinks add calories as well.
If you are not burning more calories than you’re getting from your protein shake, the supplements might cause you to gain weight.
Do: Think about where your protein is coming from
The varieties of protein supplements available at most health and grocery stores might be overwhelming. You can buy supplements made from casein, whey, soy, or even rice.
Whey- and casein-based protein supplements are two of the most common varieties. Both come from milk proteins. Casein is digested slowly, which means the protein’s building blocks stay in your blood longer, according to the article published in the National Strength and Conditioning Association journal.
Whey, meanwhile, has a lot of the type of amino acids that make up much of your muscle tissue, so it’s very effective at helping to build lean muscle, according to the article.
However, each type of protein supplement is different, so you should be sure to read the labels on each product so you know what you’re getting.