When it comes to post workout out recovery snacks, there are so many things to consider before slurping down that shake. Post workout protein shakes are definitely a big market with hundreds of brands to choose from. It seems like every guy leaves the gym violently shaking his blender bottle with the noise level increasing as their egos increases. When deciding on if you really need a post workout snack, consider the snack timing, workout intensity, and evaluating your goals.
Hundreds of studies have shown that post exercise protein and carbohydrate consumption can improve recovery, muscle soreness, and muscle function. This does not mean that every person should be consuming a post workout snack. Most people know that 30 to 60 minutes after exercising is the ideal time to consume recovery protein and carbs. With that being said, protein shakes shouldn’t necessarily be the first thing you grab. A perfect example is the lunchtime exerciser who can hit the gym and then follow it with a normal lunch of protein, carbs, and vegetables. Protein shakes may be nutrients in a very simplistic form, but the body is very efficient at extracting needed nutrients from whole foods fast. As long as your breakfast, lunch, or dinner is downed within about an hour after your workout then forget the post workout snack.
Work Warranting Recovery
I believe that the most important thing to consider when deciding on a post workout snack is if your effort in the gym really deserves that snack. I always find it comical when “those guys” slurp down their shakes announcing to the gym how hard they worked. Most of the time they had more mirror time than actual sweat time. I feel that any exercise session lasting longer than one hour or weight session accumulating hundreds of repetition deserves a post workout snack. I also think any competitive sporting game with timed play lasting an hour or more definitely needs a post-game meal. Environmental factors such as high heat, humidity and heavy sweating most likely would need post exertion hydration and supplementation. When it comes to selecting a snack, I would suggest consuming at least 10 -20 grams of protein with at least 20 grams of a simple carbohydrate. It wouldn’t hurt to throw some healthy fat into that snack as well. A simple yet effective snack could be ½ cup of full-fat Greek yogurt with a small apple.
The last thing to consider when deciding on a post workout snack is your overall fitness and nutrition goals. If you are trying to lose weight, then extra calories after a workout might negate some of the hard work you just put in on the treadmill. If you are trying to add muscle and improve your strength, then a post workout snack will be essential in achieving those goals. Performance and recovery should also be considered when debating that snack. In a study conducted by Luden et al., muscle damage and soreness were evaluated in distance runners after receiving a carbohydrate, protein, and antioxidant supplementation (1). It was determined that post run supplementation of carbs, protein and antioxidants decreased muscle damage and perceived soreness when compared to carbohydrate only supplementation (1). In addition, as running mileage increased there were greater benefits from post run supplementation (1). Bottom line, when determining if you need a recovery snack, take time to evaluate your workout timing, exercise effort and nutritional goals.
Luden, ND, MJ Saunders, and MK Todd. "Postexercise Carbohydrate-Protein- Antioxidant Ingestion Decreases Plasma Creatine Kinase and Muscle Soreness." International Journal of Sports Nutrition Exercise and Metabolism. 2007; Feb(1):109-23.