Are post-workout protein shakes better than whole foods? The answer is, it depends. You don’t need to buy protein supplements if you follow a healthy, balanced diet with the right amount of calories, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to support your health and fitness goals. However, if convenience and speed are important to you, reaching for a supplement can help get the job done too. Here are a few main things to consider in your decision to help you maximize your exercise nutrition.
Regardless of your fitness goals, your post-workout shake or meal should provide protein and carbohydrates to support muscle repair and recovery, growth, and replenish your energy stores. Proteins contain a variety of amino acids in varying amounts that serve as building blocks for muscle repair, and carbohydrates enhance muscle recovery and replenish glycogen stores in your muscles and liver. As a general target after exercise, you should aim for 1.0-1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight, and 0.25-0.3 grams of protein per kilogram body weight. A meal or snack within 3-4 hours of exercise is a simple time frame to remember. Depending on your preference, both whole food sources and supplements can be used to obtain these necessary nutrients.
Most supplements specifically formulated for “post-workout” will provide both protein and carbohydrates to aid recovery. But before you reach for that supplement or post-workout shake, you may want to consider a few other factors. Supplements carry the risk of contamination due to manufacturing processes, so they require you to do a bit of homework to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. And if you’re using a plant-based protein, it’s just as likely to be contaminated. So plant-based protein powders need to be just as carefully evaluated as whey. Work with a dietitian to find a safe and effective brand. Some whole food protein sources can be better absorbed and utilized by our bodies when compared to proteins consumed in supplement form depending on the kind of protein powder. Furthermore, many plant-based whole-food carbohydrate sources also contain phytochemicals that are associated with many health benefits, as well as potassium and magnesium to help keep your electrolytes in check. Based on these facts, whole-foods may actually be your better choice after those challenging workouts!
For your post-workout meal, the amount of food you consume will depend on your caloric needs and exercise goals. Here are a few simple whole food post-workout ideas.
If you’re working out first thing in the morning, a few post-workout breakfast ideas include:
If you typically work out after work, here are simple post-workout meals you can enjoy for dinner:
If you prefer to use a mix of your favorite foods instead, here’s the formula for putting together your post-workout meal:
Whether you’re training for competition (marathon, race, Ironman, triathlon, etc.), or just trying to stay active and healthy, providing your body with the right nutrients after your workout will help you achieve your health and fitness goals! Protein shakes can be one option, but going for whole food meals and snacks can help provide all the nutrients you need.
For even more specific targets for protein and carbohydrate based on your exercise routine and fitness goals, check out The Plant-Based Boost, Nutrition Solutions for Athletes and Exercise Enthusiasts, and the accompanying Plant-Based Boost Cookbook!
We work with registered dietitians and nutrition scientists to provide nutrition education and healthy eating tips to help create future healthier generations through good nutrition. Melissa's Healthy Living does not provide medical advice, medical nutrition therapy, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.
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