by Sean Nalewanyj
It’s an all too familiar sight…
Guys and girls walking around the gym with shaker cups full of powder, heading to the water fountain to consume that post workout concoction within minutes of completing the last rep of their session.
After all, their muscles have just been thoroughly stressed, and they need a quick-acting source of protein and carbs immediately after their workout to kick-start the recovery process… right?
Well, not really.
A typical post workout shake will generally contain a mixture of whey protein and simple carbohydrates mixed in water, which is then consumed within about 30 minutes after the workout is complete.
Although post workout shakes have been a standard part of muscle building and fat loss nutrition plans for decades, this is yet another area where “conventional” fitness advice falls short.
Although there is nothing wrong with consuming a post workout shake, here’s why it ultimately just doesn’t matter either way…
Are Post Workout Shakes Necessary? The Truth
#1 – Why You Don’t Need Simple Carbohydrates Post-Workout
Simple sugars are usually added to post workout shakes for the purposes of restoring muscle glycogen and “spiking” insulin levels to increase the absorption of the protein.
First off, unless you are performing exhaustive endurance work, a standard weight training workout will only deplete glycogen levels by around 30-40%. Even then, there is no need to immediately restore those levels unless you were planning on training the same muscle groups again within the next 12-24 hours or so.
This may be a legitimate concern for athletes who train multiple times per day, but not for the average gym-goer.
Simply resume your regular nutrition plan once you’re home from the gym, and those glycogen levels will naturally replete themselves within a few meals.
As for “spiking” insulin levels… most people don’t know this, but most high protein foods elicit a significant insulin response from the body in the same way that carbohydrates do. For example, beef has an insulin score of 51, which is around the same as that of brown rice, brown pasta or rye bread. Whey protein is also highly insulinogenic.
#2 – Why You Don’t Need “Fast Acting” Protein Post Workout
Most people highly underestimate the very slow, gradual nature of digestion and absorption. It takes many hours for the protein in any particular meal to be fully broken down into its individual amino acid components, released into the bloodstream and then absorbed by the body.
What this means is that if you already consumed some sort of pre-workout meal within a few hours of beginning your session, the same nutrients from that meal are still being released into your bloodstream even after your workout is over.
For that reason, there really is no necessity to slam a protein shake immediately after your session, nor is it mandatory that that protein source be from a “fast acting” food such as whey. (Even whey protein itself still requires several hours to be fully broken down and utilized)
In addition, even IF there were no amino acids available for your body immediately following your workout, it still wouldn’t make any real difference in the big picture since your total muscle gains will still be determined by your overall net protein balance over the long term. (Those who properly employ an intermittent fasting type of diet are a good example of this)
Are Post Workout Shakes Necessary? Wrap Up
Again, there is certainly nothing wrong with including a post workout shake in your diet plan, and if you find it to be a convenient way to get in additional protein/carbs (or if you don’t have much of an appetite following your workouts), that’s totally fine.
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s somehow mandatory, or that you need to run out and purchase some high-tech, “rapidly absorbing” carbohydrate powder or fancy protein formula to get the best results. Chicken and rice or fish and potatoes will ultimately give you the same effect.
When it comes to proper muscle building and fat burning nutrition, just focus on the big picture by meeting your overall calorie/macronutrient needs for the day as a whole, and from the proper food sources.
About the Author:
Once an awkward, out-of-shape “social outcast”, Sean Nalewanyj is now a renowned fat loss and muscle building expert, best-selling fitness author and success coach. Through his mega-popular websites and his information-packed online email lessons, Sean has helped tens of thousands of average, everyday people from all over the world burn fat, build muscle and get into the best shape of their lives. Sean is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, has written articles for dozens of the top muscle-building and fat loss websites across the Internet and is recognized as an expert authority on the subjects of building muscle and burning fat fast.