WHY IS PROTEIN IMPORTANT AFTER A WORKOUT?
It all comes down to amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Protein's main function is tissue recovery and repair. Strength training causes microscopic damage to your muscles. In turn, the body needs to recover and repair that torn tissue. With the help of protein, your body will produce fuller, denser muscle. Essentially, after a hard workout, your body needs more amino acids (a.k.a. protein) to recover optimally. Skimp on protein, and your tissues and muscles won't have the building blocks they need to help repair themselves as efficiently or effectively.
HOW MANY GRAMS OF PROTEIN DO YOU NEED AFTER A WORKOUT?
On a daily basis, you should consume a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. However, depending on your activity level and the intensity of your workouts, that number can jump to 1.4 or 2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. Ideally, most of your protein intake should come from whole foods.
HOW LONG AFTER A WORKOUT SHOULD I HAVE PROTEIN?
Drinking a protein shake within 30 minutes of a workout is a good idea (and perhaps the “best" time to drink one), to ensure your muscles have the amino acids they need. Protein has an anabolic (muscle-building) effect after exercise, but “the 'anabolic window' is somewhat of a myth. Food can fuel your muscles for up to a few hours post-workout, so the new rules of protein timing give you a little more leeway. Focus on consuming protein after a workout, but also keep an eye on your overall intake at each meal and snack, as well as the quality of your protein source.
SHOULD I FOCUS ON EATING MORE THAN PROTEIN POST WORKOUT?
Yes, your muscles need protein after an all-out workout, but don't forget about carbohydrates. Carbs are also necessary for muscle hypertrophy, It's not all just about protein. Use your appetite and GI tract as your guide — oftentimes, higher-intensity activity reduces your appetite. If you're looking to maintain or put on muscle, having complex carbs in your diet may be very necessary, since carbs are what's necessary to replenish your glycogen stores, contributing to power input and stamina.
BEST FOODS TO EAT AFTER A WORKOUT:
That'll depend on your activity. You'll need more carbs if you've done a long run or bike ride (versus a strength-training or HIIT session). Opt for whole foods when you can, but research shows that “protein supplements remain a convenient, complementary nutritional strategy for physically active adults to meet protein recommendations.
If you prefer to eat whole foods after a workout:
Eggs (they're high on the protein digestibility scale).
Meat, poultry, or fish.
Plant-based proteins like organic tempeh, tofu and edamame, a veggie burger, or beans and higher-protein grains like quinoa.
WHAT IS WHEY PROTEIN?
Whey is derived from milk and is a byproduct of the cheese-making process. Enzymes are added to milk to separate the liquid from curds. After the curds are drained, the leftover liquid is whey. This liquid was originally considered a "waste" product. Then supplement makers realized whey could be used as a high-quality, valuable protein. Because whey production is a multi-step process, there are different variations.
WHEY PROTEIN ISOLATE VS. CONCENTRATE: WHICH IS BETTER?
Whey protein is considered the gold standard because it has all of the amino acids your body needs to fuel muscle gain and recovery. Understanding that whey is a great option is the easy part. But before you grab any old whey powder, the details make all the difference in ensuring you're giving your body what it needs — and not getting ripped off.
WHEY PROTEIN ISOLATE VS. CONCENTRATE:
Whey protein is primarily offered as two different variations: whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. Knowing the difference (and what to look for on a label) will go a long way to ensuring you get the most out of your protein supplements. The main difference between whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate is protein content. Whey protein concentrate is the most common form of whey protein. To understand how whey protein concentrate is processed, imagine whey falling off a conveyor belt into buckets. All you need to do is filter out impurities, dehydrate it, flavor it, and call it "Delicious Chocolate Whey Concentrate." (Coming soon to a supplement store near you!) Some supplement companies may do more than that to their concentrate products, but it's not required. That means whey protein concentrate can vary widely in terms of protein content. Whey protein may be labeled as "concentrate" if 25 to 80 percent of its content by weight is protein. So if you scoop out 100 grams of protein powder, it can be called whey protein concentrate if anywhere between 25 and 80 grams of that is protein.
Whey protein isolate, on the other hand, must be at least 90 percent protein by weight. If you scoop out 100 grams of whey isolate, you will get 90 grams or more of protein — a significant difference compared to concentrate.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF EACH TYPE OF WHEY PROTEIN?
Most research on protein powders has found that whey protein is the best way to go for muscle building. Whey protein contains an ideal mix of essential amino acids. And when consumed, whey protein can deliver results. For instance, a study in The Journal of Nutrition compared soy protein to whey protein. Participants whose diets included whey protein for 23 weeks had a smaller waist circumference than those who consumed soy. (If you're looking for a non-dairy protein powder, research suggests that pea protein produces similar results to whey. If you're on a plant-based diet, pea protein powder may be your best option.)
But there are a few unique benefits of whey protein isolate vs. concentrate. Concentrates tend to be the cheapest sources of protein supplementation. This doesn't mean the product is low-quality, but it does mean it's not the highest purity for a protein powder.
Whey isolates tend to have a higher price relative to concentrates for four reasons:
Protein quality. Because it's a purer form of protein, you get a higher protein-to-calorie ratio.
Protein purity. Whey protein isolate filters out the rest of the macronutrients, meaning you have fewer carbs, sugar, and fat.
Digestion. Whey protein isolate usually has less than one percent lactose, meaning it's easier on your stomach if you have any dairy sensitivities.
Improved mixability. Whey protein isolate has better solubility, which tends to make it a smoother, better tasting protein smoothie.