When you’re reaching toward a fitness goal, you want to make sure that all your efforts are well worth it. So, you dutifully chug a protein shake after your heavy sweat session, only to think: Am I doing this right? If you’ve ever wondered whether to eat protein before or after a workout -- we have the answer.
In general, protein is essential for muscle repair and growth. And you can make the most of that process when it comes to muscle gains by noshing on protein sometime before and after a workout. That means eating a small meal or snack that incorporates all three macronutrients -- carbs, protein, and fat -- before a workout. And for after, you should look to carbohydrates and protein to refuel.
But, like with most things in the vast world of health and fitness --the complete answer to whether you should consume protein before or after exercise really depends on your body and when you’re working out.
What Are Some Healthy Snacks To Eat Pre-Workout?
The first important rule that experts suggest to go by is real food first. Before you workout, try a small healthy snack that contains protein, carbs, and a little fat. For example, many people will reach for a banana, thinking that a snack high in carbs will put easy-to-access energy in their fuel tank. However, the truth is that a ‘naner alone isn’t the best idea. Why? Because it may cause a rise in blood sugar followed by a fast crash during your workout, which will definitely affect your energy levels -- that’s where a little bit of healthy fat and protein comes in.
In general, it’s best to stop eating 60 minutes prior to exercise. But if you happen to have an iron-clad stomach, you can get away with bending the rules a little bit and eat closer to workout time. Here are a few good options:
- Cheese (healthy fat and protein) paired with a small piece of fruit (carb)
- Fresh veggies (carb) dunked in hummus (protein and healthy fat)
- Greek yogurt (protein) topped with berries (carb) and sliced almonds (healthy fat)
- Banana (carb) with a little nut butter (protein and healthy fat)
- Whole grain toast (carb) with avocado (healthy fat) and a boiled egg (protein)
What Is Best To Eat After A Workout?
A solid post-workout snack incorporates lean protein for muscle repair and complex carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores. The benefit of eating carbs right after exercise is that your body craves them and will most readily use them for replenishment instead of storage. That’s particularly beneficial if your ultimate goal is weight loss.
Healthy carbs include starchy veggies or whole grains, along with a lean protein source. As for protein, animal protein specifically is much more bioavailable. That means it has a complete amino acid profile --which is readily absorbed by the body, allowing you to retain and build more muscle.
Adjust the portions to make a meal, mini-meal, or snack, depending on what time of day it is and your hunger levels, of course.
Here are a handful of post-workout snack ideas you can try:
- Turkey (protein) sandwich on whole-grain bread (carbs)
- Sweet potato (carbs) topped with a little cottage cheese (protein)
- Quinoa or brown rice bowl with greens (carbs) topped with rotisserie chicken (protein)
- Hard-boiled eggs (protein) and fresh fruit (carbs)
- Protein shake made with whey or pea protein.
When Is The Best Time To Eat Protein After Exercise?
Some believe that you only have a 30-minute window after a workout where your body can most effectively absorb the protein you consume. Miss this golden window of opportunity, and you’re missing out on gains.
Well, we’ve got news for you. Your body is much more fluid than that, meaning if you ate earlier in the day, you have enough gas in the tank without the need to race for food as soon as you finish your last set of deadlifts. Simply put: this small 30-minute window to chug down a protein shake post-workout doesn’t exist.
Research sheds some light on this too. In 2017, researchers conducted a small study on 21 young men who consumed a supplement containing 25 grams of protein before and after resistance training and analyzed measures of muscle strength, thickness, and changes to body composition. The result: exact protein timing didn’t matter.
Not only did the timing not matter, but the researchers made note that the results of the study actually lend support to the theory that the interval for protein intake may be as wide as several hours or more after a training bout depending on when the pre-workout meal was consumed.
That should reassure you that you can hit your personal fitness goals without conforming to rigid or even questionable rules that might not work for you. The bottom line is that you should eat some carbs and some protein after a workout to put back what your body needs to function at its very best -- but you don’t need to worry if your appetite or your schedule won’t allow you to eat right away.
Simply put, if you’re not hungry after exercise, wait until you are -- and then eat.
So, should you eat protein before or after a workout?
Experts recommended having some protein before and after a workout, but don’t stress too much over the exact timing. At the end of the day, you know your body the best-- so listen to it!
If you’re hungry before heading to the gym, grab a small snack that contains protein, carbs, and a little fat to keep your energy levels in check. Feeling famished after a vigorous workout? Chow down on some protein and complex carbs to refuel the tank. Still full from breakfast even after exercising? Skip the snack and wait until you're hungry again to eat.
Listen to what your body needs, and you’ll reap all the muscle-building benefits of a great workout.
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