Should you have a protein shake before exercise?
The scientific jury is still out on this one, as it cannot determine with clear certainty whether taking protein before (vs during or after) exercise is more beneficial when it comes to building muscle. A few studies show a positive effect, others showing no effect, and even a few showing potentially negative side effects.
From the few studies where a benefit was shown with pre-exercise protein intake, it surprisingly only took a small amount of protein to create an anabolic (muscle building) effect – only 3-6 grams to be precise. Taking more proved to be of no further benefit. The protein should be taken at least 30 min. before you exercise so it has time to be digested and absorbed.
There is clear evidence to show that, if your blood sugar and energy levels are low (because of a low carbohydrate diet), there will be a substantial negative impact on your muscle building processes (and your energy levels and ability to train in general), even if you are consuming sufficient protein.
- It is therefore important that you not only focus on your protein intake, but that you have regular balanced meals to provide energy and other crucial components that are also critical for the muscle-building process.
- If you are training to build muscle and your exercise session is longer than 90 min., then you should refuel your energy stores during your exercise session by drinking a carb energy drink (~500 ml per 60-90 min.). This has been proven to have an anabolic (muscle building) effect, boost energy levels and help you train at a higher intensity for longer.
Should you have a protein shake after exercise?
Replacing depleted energy stores with any form of carbs is key to kick-start the recovery process – especially if you trained for more than 90 min. carbs also promote the release of the hormone, insulin, which promotes the uptake of protein to stimulate muscle growth. Ingest 1-1.5 g carbs per kg body weight in the form of a snack, meal or drink.
Adding some protein to your post-exercise carb snack or drink can further boost the recovery and muscle building process. Again, you only need a small amount, approximately 0.2-0.4 g protein per kg body weight. Protein on its own or at the expense of carbs is not ideal.
Examples of post-exercise carb and protein combinations
This can be either in the form of a snack or drink, or a meal if possible.
- Drinking yoghurt or flavoured milk
- Fruit salad and yoghurt
- Cereal and low fat or skim milk
- Carbo energy drink or fruit juice + small handful of lean biltong
- Lean meat (or tuna) sandwich or a bread roll, pita, pasta or potato filling, with fruit juice
- Shake containing carbs and protein and that is low in fat (less protein in proportion to carbs)
Follow this up with regular balanced main meals and in-between snacks as soon as possible after exercise.
Comments about performance and muscle building supplements or shakes
Be aware that the claims and ingredients on the label of products sold as ‘nutritional supplements’ unfortunately does not guarantee that the product is effective, ‘clean’ (free of banned substances) or safe to use from a health point of view. These products do not have to undergo a stringent process of scientific-grade testing for effectiveness and most importantly safety before they are sold on the market. In addition, the legislation in South Africa and other parts of the world is not established and developed to the degree that it is effective in preventing supplement manufacturers from making false claims and advertently or inadvertently falsify ingredients in the product. Consumers, particularly children and teenagers therefore need to approach these products with utmost caution and critical consideration. The guidance from a registered dietitian can be helpful in making the correct nutrition and supplement choices.
Remember, the performance and health benefits of a healthy, balanced diet combined with the correct type and amount of training has been proven beyond a doubt – and it has the added benefit of being ‘safe’ in the short and long-run.