A proper meal after a strenuous workout can do just as much to build lean muscle mass as a fancy protein shake, according to exercise experts. But a carbohydrate- and protein-enriched smoothie may be a good idea if you don’t have time to eat right.
The body needs carbohydrates, protein and some fat right after exercise to repair muscle tissue damaged during strength training. If you don’t replenish these depleted resources, it takes longer to recover from the training session and you will feel sluggish, says exercise physiologist Jose Antonio.
Refueling After a Workout
What’s the best way to refuel after a tiring training session?
The ideal menu immediately after a workout (and timing is critical) would be a chicken breast, broccoli and brown rice, says Dr Antonio, who co-authored a book called the Sports Supplement Encyclopedia.
If you can’t whip up a chicken breast after a visit to the gym, then your next best choice, he says, is to drink a carbohydrate- and protein-based shake containing at least two to four times more carbs than protein. So, if you consume 1,600 total kilojoules after an intense workout, make sure at least 400 of those kilojoules are from protein (about 25 grams).
To make your own power drinks tastier, mix protein powder in skim milk, throw in some bananas and blueberries, then blend. Protein powders are made from whey (cottage cheese), casein (a protein ingredient in milk and cheese) or soy.
Should You Use Protein Supplements?
Kris Berg, an exercise physiologist and professor, agrees that it’s a good idea to grab a bite after a workout. But he doesn’t believe fancy protein-fortified supplements are necessary.
“The timing and composition of the post-exercise snack is somewhat important,” says Dr Berg. “But a glass of milk and a sandwich are adequate to stimulate enough insulin secretion to accelerate the uptake of both glucose and amino acids. Special whey/soy proteins are no better than the amino acids in milk and meat, and the like.”
A typical 25-year-old male weighing about 80 kg needs no more than 120 grams of protein a day, explains Dr Berg. A glass of milk provides eight grams of protein. Another 25 grams can be picked up in a portion of meat or fish about the size of the palm of your hand. Add another two to three grams in each slice of bread.
Since most men eat meat twice a day, says Dr Berg, protein supplements “probably are not needed” even for someone engaging in strenuous physical activity.
Both experts agree that a regular and conscientious exercise program geared to your capabilities is the best way to build lean and healthy muscle mass. So, stop slurping smoothies. And start pumping iron.