Between bars, shakes, and jerky, it definitely seems like we’ve reached peak protein positivity. It’s a far cry from the days when women shied away from the nutrient, convinced it was only for bodybuilders who wanted to bulk up. Now, you’ll find it in virtually everyone’s gym bag or snack drawer at work. A good thing? Totally. But just how much protein do you really need after a gym sesh or fitness class?
“Pretty much anything you’re going to eat after a workout is going to be determined by how long you worked out and the type of training you did,” says registered dietitian, board-certified sports nutritionist, and nutrition director for Trifecta Nutrition Emmie Satrazemis. Other factors that come into play: age, gender, and overall lifestyle. Oh, and if you’re only prioritizing protein in your post-recovery plan, you might be missing the most important part.
Do you always need protein right after a workout?
Before you dive spoon-first into a jar of nut butter, Satrazemis says to consider the type of workout you just did first. “Typically, the rule of thumb is that if you are doing more than 60 minutes of training—or you’re doing really heavy training like high intensity or significant weight training—then it’s important to refuel post-workout,” she says. “But if you just did 20 minutes on the elliptical or went for a light jog, then you might end up eating more calories than you actually burned.” If that’s the case, she says you’re good to wait until your next meal, as long as it’s not more than a couple hours away, rather than reach for a protein shake immediately.
Jasper Nathaniel is in the business of refueling properly—literally. As the COO of plant-based workout drink company Revere, he’s intensely studied and figured out a formula for the best way to recover. He’s totally on board with Satrazemis’ suggestion, saying, “The body needs more protein after a strength-training-based workout than cardio.”
How much protein you need after a workout
According to Dietary Reference Intake guidelines, the average woman needs about 46 grams of protein on days when she isn’t working out. (Men need about 56 grams.) But on those days when you’re going HAM on your strength training routine, the American College of Sports Medicine says you need 20 more grams. “Between 20 and 35 will be enough, and there’s actually debate as to whether the body can even absorb more than that,” Satrazemis says.
You should have it pretty soon after you put the weights down, too. “Post-workout protein should be consumed within 45 minutes to best lock in results. The longer you wait, the less effective it will be,” Nathaniel says. But again, this is only for those super intense workout days; otherwise, you’re good to wait a couple hours until mealtime.
The best types of protein to have after a workout
Here’s some good news for your ravenous post-workout self: There are a ton of protein options that will get you that extra 20 grams. If you want it to be absorbed ASAP, Satrazemis says to opt for a smoothie or drink because it gets into the bloodstream faster than food, which your body has to work to break down. Reason number one why the our Drink Apes vegan protein shakes are the perfect post workout fix at City Surf.
Besides getting your protein fix in liquid form, there’s a slew of foods that will do the trick: Greek yogurt (20 grams of protein), chia pudding (which has between 15 to 20 grams of protein), and chicken (which has about 25 grams in a half serving) are all good options. But both experts add that your post-workout recovery should include more than just protein…
Why you need carbs after a workout
“When it comes to recovery, you actually need carbs more than [you need] protein,” Satrazemis says. She explains that carbs are stored in muscles and used for energy; when you work out, carbs are the energy source that’s depleted first. “You need carbs to repair your muscles and help refuel your energy,” she says. “Without them, you’re going to be more sore.”
It’s why her favorite post-recovery snacks have a combo of both carbs and protein such as chocolate milk, peanut butter on toast, or even sweet potatoes, chicken, and veggies if you worked out right before dinner. Nathaniel is a big sweet potato fan, too: The root veggie is a core ingredient in all the Revere blends. If your go-to protein drink doesn’t have carbs in it, pair it with a slice of bread or banana to make your recovery more well-rounded.
If you don’t recovery properly after HIIT, strength-training, or long cardio workouts, your poor muscles aren’t going to be there for you for your next trip to the gym—and you’re going to feel hella sore. So refuel, relax, and relish in the good you’re doing for your body.
Learn more about the importance of proper nutrition and post workout habits as well as credit for this blog at Well + Good fitness blog.