Jan. 28. 2016
Nutrition Articles
McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder

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

“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!”

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?

Myth Stripped

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


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 McKel