Post Workout Window and The “Need” For Protein 

Fitness, Myths Stripped

Do you need protein after a workout? | Post Workout Window and The "Need" For Protein

Do we need to drink a protein shake or eat protein immediately after our workouts or within a certain “window” of time? Find out in this Myths Stripped.

“In this series, I’m stripping away the fluff around these nutrition and healthy living myths, dogmas, and practices from reading your submissions to our inbox. Join the conversation and share in the comments why/if you went along with this myth!”

 MYTH STRIPPED

Do we need to drink a protein shake immediately after our workouts within a certain “window” of time? 

In short, no. But sometimes it might be beneficial, so let’s look into this common myth. All too often I see guys (and ladies too) have a protein bottle ready to chug the second they’ve finished their workout. They’re typically looking to optimize their workouts by getting in protein during this peak “window of time” when our muscles “need” protein. Their intention is good, but is it really needed and does it really work?

There are so many things we need to take into consideration for this myth:

1) What did you eat the day before?

2) Are you muscle glycogen stores full?

3) Are you fat adapted, meaning you burn fat as your fuel source rather than carbohydrates (as seen with low carb/high fat eaters)?

4) How long was your workout?

5) How intense was your workout?

6) Did you consume food before?

7) Are you in a fasted state for 12+ hours?

8) Are you consuming anything during your workout like BCAA’s?

9) How are you hormonally set up in the present moment to burn protein or muscle?

Okay, clearly I could go on for quite some time here, but I hope you understand the questions that first come to mind as a dietitian and as a recreational athlete! There are way too many options here to easily say no or yes you should/shouldn’t be eating a certain type of protein and when. Your muscle glycogen (i.e. energy stored) contains about 350-500g of carbohydrates which is enough to fuel you through your workouts, training, and for longer endurance sessions like long runs. Since my workouts are typically short training times with high intensity or long training times with heavy weights, I like BCAA’s during workouts because I’m not huge on large pre-workout meals. What about your workout? Think about these questions regarding your workout times and intensity.

There are many studies showing exercise followed by consuming protein directly afterwards still doesn’t advance muscle anabolism (building of our precious lean muscle mass). Rather what does help this process is the overall picture of the day and how much protein and fuel we’re consuming through whole foods and also our pre-workout nutrition (if available). If you’re consuming the right calories and macronutrient goals for the day, not just that 30-60 minute “window”, what you eat post-workout is less important than looking at the context of your entire day. This “window” is more like 2-4 hours, and maybe even be 24 hours as one study shows.

So does that mean we need to slam carbohydrates post-workout too? Not necessarily. In one study consuming carbohydrates with protein didn’t change or increase the amount of muscle synthesis (i.e. growth and repair) compared to just protein alone. Does that mean you should just eat protein alone? No, but it’s higher priority than carbohydrates in my book. The moral of this Myth Stripped post is to try to have larger flexibility within the time after your workouts and make it work for your lifestyle. So ideally you’re able to go home and eat a whole foods meal with roughly 20-40g protein (again depending on your goals), but if you’re on the go opt for something quick and nourishing like the Mood Boosting Cocoa Smoothie.

Just in case you are looking for protein powders, there’s nothin’ wrong with that! I love using them for a boost of protein during the day or added to smoothies. Be sure to check out my guide to plant-based protein supplements to find one you enjoy.

Protein, part 1 
Plant-based Q&A
10 Plant-based Proteins You Should Be Eating

YOUR TURN

Have you ever followed this myth? Do you have friends that tell you this myth? Leave a comment and let’s chat! And if we’re talking about protein requirements (as in how many grams you need in a day), that’s a whole other question and I’ll leave that up to any 1-1 chats with me, sign up here for a personal nutrition plan.

xx McKelmailing-list-button-coaching-services

Share your thoughts

  • Anoushé

    It’s super frustrating always seening people with their protein powders after their workouts! I would honestly probably be just like them too if I could’ve found a decent tasting protein powder that works well with water, but they are all full of artificial sweeteners!
    My next goal was to find BCAAs to take during, so your article came at the exact right time. Do you recommend a certain brand that you’ve enjoyed so far?

    • McKel Hill

      Great question! If you click on BCAA there’s a link to the brand I recommend and use personally 😉

      • Katie

        McKel-

        Thanks! That would be super helpful. I love all that you do with your blog and coaching is something I really want to do myself. I just don’t know how to get there! Can’t wait to hear more from you about this! 🙂

        -Katie

        • McKel Hill

          Thanks for sharing Katie! I’d love to help you out- just email me for your coaching and we’ll get you started xM ([email protected])

  • Becca

    I generally put protein powered (Sun Warrior!) in my smoothie every day. Should I be limiting my intake at all?

  • Weronika

    I was also looking into this and I found that when it comes to proteins it is more important how much you eat a day than after the workout. I don’t like to eat after workouts, I feel like my blood is everywhere but in my stomach so I prefer to wait with my meal.

    • McKel Hill

      Thanks for sharing your input Weronika!

  • Vicky

    What are your thoughts about taking protein (within ~45min) to help minimize muscle soreness after weight lifting?

    • McKel Hill

      Hi Vicky! I hope that this post clarifies my stance on protein after the workouts! For recovery with sore muscles- again it’ll depend on your overall intake for the entire day + turmeric and tart cherry juice are both great for reducing inflammation with sore muscles specifically 😉

  • Shelby

    Can you write a blog post on macronutrient ratios and how to get in more protein as a plant-based eater? I’ve recently started counting my macros, but it is so difficult to get enough protein in without also raising fat levels through the roof! I would really love your input on this. 🙂

    • McKel Hill

      I would BUT that goes against my MO- everyone is so different and that’s what I practice with my clients 1-1, giving them their specific macros to meet their goals. I’m more than happy to have a consult with you and share that with you! Email [email protected] 😉

  • Carrie S.

    I used to do the protein powder after a workout, and then I started to get away from it because I didn’t want to rely on a protein powdered drink following my (early morning) workout. I’ve been doing the January Whole 30 routine, and one thing I’ve noticed is, I am now incorporating a pre-workout meal of fat, carbohydrate & fiber and that has incredibly improved my workout stamina and endurance, and, I’m no longer STARVING after the workout! It allows me to come home, shower, change and prepare a nutritious breakfast about an hour later. It works for me, and I think you really have to find what works for YOU.

    • McKel Hill

      Exactly, it’s all about what works for you Carrie! Thanks for sharing your story 😉

  • Enid

    Actually…this has NOTHING to do with WHEN you eat your protein after your workout. But I would like to ask whether even drinking PLAIN GREEN TEA w/JUST a squeeze of lemon (juice) or sometimes with some ground BLACK PEPPER (ALSO just a teeny tiny bit!!!) in it before working out in the mornings and NOTHING ELSE would ALSO count as ‘FASTING’??? I use lemon just AND black pepper as a form of BETTER ‘absorption’ of the green tea (that’s what I’ve heard from friends). Thanks for answering this question…as it’s been ‘BOTHERING’ me for quite SOME time as I want to do a ‘FAST’ BEFORE working out (I workout in the MORNINGS…skip breakfast…and just have lunch afterwards)!!!

  • Eva

    Hi there! Thanks for the interesting read. Can you recommend any books on the topic? Would love to gain more insight.

    Thanks and all the best,

    E

    • McKel Hill

      All the bolded words are direct links to studies that you might enjoy reading on the subject- otherwise it’s just taken from my knowledge and random textbooks I have lying around here!

  • Katie

    McKel,
    I love all that you do with your website… And I swear we must be one in the same of people because you share the same interests I have in dietetics, food, and mindset (from what I can see on your blog/Instagram). I was wondering if there were a better way of contacting you to ask a few professional-related questions to learn more about entrepreneurship as a dietetian and how to do what you’re doing!

    I would love to hear advice from someone I’ve been a long time follower of.

    Thank you!
    Katie

    • McKel Hill

      Thank you Katie! If you check out my FAQ page I go in detail there but as far as career specific questions, I get asked that so often that I’m thinking of making a video series about it but it’s also what I talk about in workshops, etc.; more coming this year!

  • Van Den Noortgaete Isabelle

    Hello dear McKel,

    I have a question. The nutritional values (carbs, proteins, etc) on the food packages of whole rice, quinoa etc. Is it for the cooked product or rather for the dried and so the values have to be divided?

    Example: (on package of dry) Quinoa — 100g
    Proteins — 12g
    Is this then (12g) for 100g of cooked or dry quinoa?

    Thank you again for all your kind and always encouraging words full of knowledge!

    Isabelle, form Belgium

    • McKel Hill

      Great question! If you look at the package, it should specific dry or cooked, mostly with grains and legumes it’s referring to it’s dry form. x M

  • Audrey

    Hi McKell! Really loved that post and I am considering doing coaching with you because I have been following you for a while and you are like my number one inspiration (I am starting dietetics school next year). How much would the fresh plan cost? Hope I could afford it. Thank you for your answer! Xx

    • McKel Hill

      Thank you Audrey! Happy to answer your questions and hear more about your goals, please email [email protected] xxM

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