It’s time for another edition of “Ask Eirik”, the series of blog posts dedicated to answering some of the questions I receive through e-mail. If you have any questions you’d like me to provide my two cents on, feel free to use the contact form. The questions I choose to answer here on the blog are those I feel deserve a lengthy reply and/or that revolve around topics I think a lot of people are interested in. I primarily choose to publish those that cover topics/problems I haven’t already written about, so before you shoot me an e-mail, take the time to use the search function in the sidebar.
In my recent article titled “10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use Whey Protein Supplements” I made the case that using whey protein supplements is a bad idea if you’re looking to achieve great health. Since then I’ve gotten quite a bit of questions – such as the one below which I received through e-mail a couple of days ago – regarding what protein supplements to use instead. Since this is clearly something a lot of people wonder about, I thought it was appropriate to put up a short post discussing this issue.
Which protein supplement would you recommend for an after workout supplement?
My short answer to your question is that I recommend that you stay away from protein supplements altogether.
If you haven’t done so already, I suggest that you read the recent blog post in which I discuss the adverse health effects of using whey protein supplements. Although the main focus of that post is on whey protein, many of the things I touch on also apply to other types of protein supplements, including plant-based products.
The reason I chose to focus on whey protein for that article isn’t that supplements that contain this collection of globular proteins are necessarily much worse than other protein supplements, but because whey protein is the main component of the most popular protein supplements that are on the market today. Furthermore, there’s a lot more scientific research on whey protein than on most other proteins that are commonly used in supplements.
In that article, besides discussing the general problems with whey protein supplementation, I also go into what the scientific literature tells us about protein supplementation pre- and post-workout. You may be surprised to learn that the scientific evidence doesn’t support the idea that consuming a post-workout protein shake enhances strength- and hypertrophy-related adaptations to strength training.
The most important thing is that you consume enough protein throughout the day (3-5 balanced, protein-rich meals/day is usually a good fit for strength trainees), not that you time your protein intake in or around your workouts. Actually, given what we know about the negative health effects of using protein supplements, I’ll argue that a post-workout protein shake may do you – including your recovery and athletic performance – more harm than good.
A lot of gym goers and athletes would benefit from including more high-quality protein in their diet. That being said, more isn’t necessarily better. You don’t need as much protein as many bodybuilders and “fitness experts” would have you believe. As I’ve pointed out in my posts on protein intake and strength training, if there are any benefits to going higher than approximately 1.8-2.0 g/protein/kg/day, they appear to be small (for most lifters).
What many articles and books in this area fail to mention is that the human body has its own mechanisms for regulating protein intake. Several studies have indicated that humans, as well as many other animal species, prioritize protein when regulating food intake. This idea is known as the protein-leverage hypothesis. For example, in studies where participants are divided into two groups and instructed to eat either a high-protein diet (e.g., 25% of total calories from protein) or low-protein diet (e.g., 10% of total calories from protein), the participants in the high protein group typically end up consuming fewer total calories. One of the proposed explanations for this difference in energy intake is that the participants in the low protein group take in more food because they’re striving to reach a targeted protein intake.
Rather than focusing on exactly how many grams of protein you’re taking in each day or timing your protein intake in and/or around your workouts, I recommend that you just listen to your body. Eat when you’re hungry, and stick to real food. If you crave protein, consume protein. This may sound like an overly simplistic strategy, but when it comes to protein consumption, it’s usually a very effective one; as long as you eat a high-quality diet, are healthy, and know how to listen to the signals your body is sending you.
Being a former gym junkie, I know it can be difficult to get enough high-quality protein from real food, particularly if you have a busy life and hectic work schedule. That being said, it’s far from impossible; it just takes a bit more effort in terms of meal planning and preparation.
The bottom line is that my advice is to stay away from protein supplements and instead get all of your protein from real food. This doesn’t have to be a time-consuming effort. The key is to make larger batches of food and have some tuna, cooked eggs, nuts, boxes of food, etc. available for when you’re on-the-go.
I hope this helps!