This article is targeted at beginners, providing a simple explanation of what to look for in a recovery drink. Post workout drinks or protein shakes are very popular amongst people who work out, but many people (like me) start off very skeptical about taking anything to boost performance and worry about any possible side affects.
What’s in the drink?
Mostly its protein, this is to tackle the main purpose of any post-workout recovery drink – muscle recovery. Secondly it’ll contain supporting agents, such as amino-acids, or a pro-biotic. It should also contain some electrolytes, low in fat (and sugar) and varying levels of carbohydrates.
What does it do?
When you workout hard, especially weight lifting, you’re actually tearing your muscles. This isn’t as bad as it sounds and is the basis of all exercise. As you exercise and put the muscle under strain the tiny fibers tear, and then over the next 24-48 hours they rebuild. This is why your muscles ache and feel sore the next day, and sometimes the day after, your body’s repairing itself. As the muscles repair they build back stronger, in effect your body’s trying to better prepare itself for the new demands you’ve introduced to your lifestyle.
This muscle repairing process requires a fuel and that fuel is protein.
As a rule your body needs half your weight (lbs) in protein (g), so if you weigh 160lbs, you’d need 80g of protein each day. If you start to look at the protein content of the things you eat each day, you’ll probably find you fall way short of that. This is where a protein drink is ideal, and can top up your daily intake of protein. A typical post-workout recovery drink contains around 20g of protein.
So what type of protein and when should I take it?
The one you’ll hear the most about is Whey, and there’s a very good reason for that. Whey is the protein that is absorbed fastest into the body. After you workout, there’s a small window of time, that if you can get the protein into your body, it dramatically improves how well your body can use it for the muscle repair process. This is typically straight after a workout, the sooner the better, and stays open for 30-45 minutes. After that the protein can still be absorbed and used, but it’s just more effective it you can get it in quick!
Should I ever take a protein drink before a workout?
Some people say it doesn’t matter when you drink it. But generally speaking you should not really drink a protein drink directly before exercise. You’re probably confusing it with a pre-workout drink that provides simulation or enhanced muscle performance. Protein is for recovery and is best taken straight after your workout, or last thing at night as a lot of the muscle repair is done whilst you sleep.
Any problems or side-effects?
At first you may find a little trouble digesting the protein, it can upset your stomach, but for me this passed after a few days. The better protein drinks will contain a pro-biotic agent to help aid digestion.
What if I have too much protein?
If your body has too much protein, it will turn it into sugars and fatty acids. It also puts extra strain on your kidneys. If you get pain around your kidney area or weight gain, these could be signs you’re taking too much protein. The trick is getting the balance just right.
Earn your recovery drink!
Don’t get caught up in the idea that drinking these drinks will make you stronger. They only work if you first put in the hard work and do the exercise. These aren’t diet shakes and shouldn’t be used as meal replacements for weight loss. These are designed to help you recover after an intense workout session, so your back the next day, ready to exercise some more!
Hopefully that’s helped explain the basics and let you see there’s really nothing to worry about.
Now there’s just one more question: Which protein drink should you use?