protein after a workout - man drinking protein shake

How Much Protein Should You Consume After a Workout to Maximize Gains?

By Stepfanie Romine

Protein is essential, especially when you're an active person looking to build muscle or lose weight. But this macronutrient seems to elicit a lot of questions: Why is protein important? How should you consume it? And how many grams of protein do you need after a workout?

“Every body is different, but studies show that consuming at least 20 grams of protein post-workout can help optimize recovery and training adaptations such as muscle growth and strength gains," says Trevor Thieme, CSCS, Fitness and Nutrition Content Director at Openfit.

That's good to know!

Let's answer more of the common questions about protein.

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Why Is Protein Important After a Workout?

It all comes down to amino acids, the building blocks of protein.

“Protein's main function is tissue recovery and repair," says Samantha Coogan, MS, RD, the director of the didactic program in nutrition and dietetics at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

After a hard workout, your body needs more amino acids (a.k.a. protein). Strength training causes microscopic damage to your muscles (this is a good thing!).

“In turn, the body needs to recover and repair that torn tissue," explains Coogan. With the help of protein, your body “will produce fuller, denser muscle."

Skimp on protein, and your tissues and muscles won't have the building blocks they need to help repair themselves as efficiently or effectively.

How Long After a Workout Should I Have Protein?

Drinking a protein shake within 30 minutes of a workout is a good idea (and perhaps the “best" time to drink one), to ensure your muscles have the amino acids they need.

Protein has an anabolic (muscle-building) effect after exercise, says Coogan, but she cautions that “the 'anabolic window' is somewhat of a myth." Food can fuel your muscles for up to a few hours post-workout, so the new rules of protein timing give you a little more leeway.

Focus on consuming protein after a workout, but also keep an eye on your overall intake at each meal and snack, as well as the quality of your protein source.

Should I Focus on Eating More Than Protein Post Workout?

Yes, your muscles need protein after an all-out workout, but don't forget about carbohydrates.

“Carbs are also necessary for muscle hypertrophy," Coogan reminds us. “It's not all just about protein."

Use your appetite and GI tract as your guide — “oftentimes, higher-intensity activity reduces your appetite" for a while, Coogan says.

“If you're looking to put on or maintain muscle, having complex carbs in your diet may be very necessary, since carbs are what's necessary to replenish your glycogen stores, contributing to power input and stamina," she explains.

Best Foods to Eat After a Workout

What should you eat? That'll depend on your activity. You'll need more carbs if you've done a long run or bike ride (versus a strength training or HIIT session).

Opt for whole foods when you can, but research shows that “protein supplements remain a convenient, complementary nutritional strategy for physically active adults to meet protein recommendations."

If you're looking for a quick snack, try this Chocolate Banana Pudding recipe made with Ladder Whey Protein.

“We formulated Ladder Whey Protein with fast-digesting whey protein to help optimize muscle repair and growth, and tart cherry extract to help reduce exercise-induced muscle soreness," adds Thieme.*

If you prefer to eat whole foods after a workout, Coogan suggests:

  • Eggs (they're high on the protein digestibility scale).
  • Meat, poultry, or fish.
  • Plant-based proteins like organic tempeh, tofu and edamame, a veggie burger, or beans and higher-protein grains like quinoa.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.