Monday, July 27, 2009

Do you have to drink a protein shake after your workout?

I get this question all the time from readers:

"Do I have to drink a whey protein shake right after my weight-training workout, like you recommend in your books, or can I eat a whole food meal containing protein and get the same benefits?"

Well, the truth is that you don't HAVE to drink a whey protein shake after each and every workout, but there are benefits. The reason why whey is recommended before and after each workout is because of the special amino acid profile (amino acids are the building blocks of protein and each protein has a different profile) it contains. Whey is very high in the amino acid Leucine, (containing about 12% leucine) which is one of the essential branch chain amino acids primarily responsible for prompting muscle protein synthesis.

Following your weight workout, initiating muscle protein synthesis is important because, if you worked your muscles hard enough, you purposefully damaged them. This damage and repair process following a workout is exactly how you develop more muscle tissue and in turn, melt away unsightly body fat.

So, your goal after your workout is to help your muscles repair as quickly as possible so you can:
a) return to the gym sooner than later and continue your fat-burning, muscle-building process
b) prevent your muscles from feeling so sore that you never want to lift again

Drinking a whey protein shake will definitely help you do this, but what if you workout just before dinner and you'd rather eat your protein than drink it? (Also, so you can enjoy a dinner with your family instead of sitting on the sidelines enjoying the view).

Well, you can absolutely enjoy a whole meal instead of a shake and still reap the benefits of leucine.

Certain whole proteins are particularly rich in leucine, so following your workout, make sure you have at least a 3 oz serving of these particular proteins:
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Salmon
  • Shrimp
  • Chicken
  • Whole Eggs (the yolks have more leucine than whites)
  • Milk
In fact, a lot of research has been done on the benefits of drinking milk following a workout.

Also, new research is coming out about the benefits of eating eggs and a powerful workout food:

Eggs Pack Protein, Power and Strength

As an example, a good way to support your muscles after your workout with a whole meal is to have a glass of milk with a 2 egg omelet and 2 extra whites, steamed veggies (carrots and corn, in addition to dark green veggies would be good post-workout), and fresh fruit (pineapple would be a good choice due to it's greater sugar content and anti-inflammatory properties). Your family will probably go for this as well, and you won't go broke in the process!

So, if you're watching what you eat and you'd rather eat a whole meal following your workout than drink a shake, go right ahead. Just make sure you include a good portion of the proteins listed above and your muscles will thank you.


Anonymous said...

I know you said milk is a good source of Leucine--do cheese, cottage Cheese, and yogurt also count? And if so--how much of those should we eat after a workout?

Casey said...

So if I am going to have a straight-up protein shake, about how much would I want? You mentioned 3oz in the food, does that translate into 3oz in the shake?

Rob Sinnott, MS, CSCS, PFT said...

How much will the large difference in the time it takes to digest a shake versus a meal effect nutrient uptake and protein synthesis? Say a person is going to eat dinner after they workout, they drive 20 minutes home and take ten minutes to prepare their meal, and then they are able to eat it.
I have read that you are supposed to get your nutrition in post-workout before a "thirty minute window" closes, how much truth is there to that time limit? I appreciate your input.

Leslie said...

great explanation! I've actually been wondering this myself! thanks!

Cassandra Forsythe said...

Yes, all dairy will count. You should consume at least 2 oz cheese, 3/4 cup cottage cheese and 12 oz yogurt.

Casey: 3 oz of animal protein is ~25-30 grams of protein. You can use one scoop (30 g) of whey protein to get this same amount of protein.

Rob: True, for fastest protein resynthesis, timing does help. However, if you're the average woman or man that isn't trying to necessarily get HYOOGE in the shortest time possible, consuming protein at dinner is still fine.

Leslie: Thank you!

Kerry said...

How long of workout would you say requires an PWO shake? I'm currently doing a program by A.Cosgrove that has you doing weights, metabolic training, and intervals/cardio, 6 days a week (so one type per day). the workouts are around 30 mins long, and the intervals/cardio is 1 hour. Do i need a shake after these? Thanks so much for your help!

UofMWolverine81 said...


I have a few questions.

You mentioned the yolk being more leucine-rich than the white. Will the fat in the yolks impact much or is this along the same lines of what you mentioned to Rob, e.g. that it may not matter as much to regular folks as opposed to BBers?

If having a shake still, is the shake best prior to training followed by a whole food meal after? I see a lot of debate on what the actual post-training need is and how pre-training nutrition often impacts the need or lack there of post training.

As far as para-training carbs, is whole fruit the ultimate best bet from a health + performance perspective? Some tout fancy designer carbs pre-during, and post (example Biotest), others say to consume a glucose maltodextrin blend (which gets slammed by some folks for being nutritionally void), and still others tout starchy carbs for glycogen resynthesis.

All this makes for a very muddled picture, especially when people then try to qualify statements by saying that "X" advice applies only t the general public not focused on maximum muscle or "Y" advice only applies to hardcore bodybuilders, etc., etc.

Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

Shanna said...

What's your favorite protein shake? I'm looking for a new one. Also, should I always be mixing it with milk (skim)?

Love your blog!

Cassandra Forsythe said...

Kerry: ANY workout by Alwyn is worthy of protein - these definitely count. :)

Shanna: I'm getting away from all artificial sweetners and most protein powders contain them. So, I'm now buying unsweetened Whey Protein Isolate from Here's the link: If you need any help ordering, just email me.

Cassandra Forsythe said...

U of M:
1) What specifically are you wondering that the fat will impact? Blood Lipids? Body comp? Remember, all the recent research shows that egg yolks at this level of consumption (12/week) have nothing but positive effects on blood lipids. For body comp, fat doesn't make you fat, and a yolk only contains 5 grams. Also, cholesterol in yolks is the precursor to testosterone: the basis of muscle building.

2) Shake following by whole food is most ideal scenario. Protein before is very beneficial too.

3)For extreme athletes, the designer carbs (Like malto, waxy maize), but for your general lifter who wants to look good an dbe healthy, I prefer fruit or another food with other useful nutrients.

Mike T Nelson said...

Excellent info here Cass on protein around training and some great options! Have some food/protein first and then worry about if it optimal or not.

Keep up the great work!
Rock on
Mike T Nelson PhD(c)
Extreme Human Performance

Sue said...

What about the post shakes that contain heaps of carbs - one such (prograde) contains about 14g protein and 30g carbs. Isn't this too much sugar?

Cassandra Forsythe said...

Sue, it depends on your activity level. If you're really working hard, you could use those carbs. But, if not, an equal carb pro ratio might be beter.

Cassandra Forsythe said...

Sue, it depends on your activity level. If you're really working hard, you could use those carbs. But, if not, an equal carb pro ratio might be beter.

damaranicole said...

So, my question is, I do heavy lifting (well, I call it heavy lifting) three days a week with a break in between each session. However, one day a week I do intervals - so 2 minutes of anaerobic cardio followed by 2 minutes of what is called a break, but it's endurance lifting (light weights - 5 lbs at the most for this portion of it). Do I need to drink a protein shake after this type of lifting? Or just on the 3 days when I'm doing the heavier lifting? And, I don't need a protein shake on just cardio days correct?

Cassandra Forsythe said...

Damarnicole: Good question. A protein shake would really be beneficial after your heavy lifts to help with muscle recovery. Protein in general though is still helpful after your other exercise sessions because it does help replenish muscle glycogen and it will help repair any muscle damage. So, on the lighter and cardio days, you can have a meal with a whole food protein choice if you don't want to make a shake.

mary said...

I am persuing my weight loss goals by cutting calories and adding in exercise. I'm not hardcore but wonder if adding protein shake would benefit my workout and weight loss goals.
I am currently doing 30-40 mins on the elliptical in the morning and then weight &/or strength training in the evenings after I get off work. I had been adding a protein shake after my morning cardio but then hit a plateau on the scales. I also read that you should do the shake before so your muscles break down. Then I wondered if I should being adding it after my weight training instead of my cardio workout. Or since im not really hardcore- should i skip it all together?