Have you ever been working out at the gym and seen someone drinking a protein shake as they either are still working out or just as they are leaving? Or maybe you are even someone who does this, as many believe that the faster you consume protein after a workout, the more growth you’ll see in your muscles. However, you don’t need to be drinking that protein powder so quickly, and you might not even have to be drinking protein powder at all after you lift.

Protein shake

Photo by Malia Budd

There are many misconceptions as to when you should consume protein after a workout. However, recent studies show that your muscles’ elevated sensitivity to protein lasts 24 hours after you lift. The fact is, you don’t need to down a protein shake before you are even out of the gym to see muscle growth from protein. You actually have 24 to 48 hours after a workout, as your muscle protein synthesis can occur that long after you lift.

Okay, so do you really need to have a protein shake after you lift? Well, the answer isn’t concrete. It isn’t bad for you, but there is a more important aspect to your protein intake besides if you should be having a shake after you workout.

What really matters regarding the results you want is how much protein you are consuming throughout your entire day, not just from one protein shake. By making sure you include protein in every meal and space out when you have protein-rich foods, you’re more likely to get better results. Moderate amounts of protein may actually be more beneficial than having one protein shake with 40 grams of protein after a workout.

Also, your pre-workout snack might be more important than your post-workout protein shake. You can eat a protein-rich meal one to two hours before working and still receive the same benefits, as your muscles are in a receptive state to absorb that protein one to three hours after eating. Thus, you will still get the same benefits from that pre-workout snack and not need a post-workout shake.

Protein shake

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A lot of times, if you are consuming enough protein with the foods you eat your post-workout protein shake after you lift isn’t really needed. However, if you are someone who doesn’t eat a lot of protein in your daily meals, that protein shake could be helpful for you to see results. Protein shakes are not the same as whole foods, and will never fully contain the same nutritional benefits as the food you eat does.

Furthermore, you can actually lose nutritional value from drinking your nutrients and vitamins as opposed to eating them. Many believed that protein shakes were thought to digest faster in the stomach compared to whole foods, however this isn’t the case.

I’m not saying it’s bad to have a protein shake, but some of the previously thought benefits don’t hold up when compared to the protein you get from food. Whether you grab for the protein powder or food, each approach is actually valid. But don’t feel pressured to have a protein shake after a workout. You can use food and see the same results.

Whole foods will always be your best option in order to make sure you are truly receiving all the nutrition you need, but protein powder isn’t bad and can be more convenient at times. It’s just a matter of your personal preference and realizing that your overall protein intake throughout the day is more important and beneficial to your muscles than the protein shake everyone seems to be drinking after they lift.